Are baby-led weaning and breastfeeding similar?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a method of self-regulated feeding
Unlike the more traditional method of introducing solids with a spoon, in this method, food is not offered to babies as purees or mashed but in a form and consistency that enables them to pick, hold, chew and swallow their food by themselves.
Sometimes mothers might hear uninformed comments such as “your milk doesn’t nourish and neither does baby-led weaning”. Let’s see what aspects there are to baby-led weaning and where are the important common elements compared to breastfeeding.
Breastmilk is the most complete and safest food for infants. Its composition and volume change exactly according to the child’s requirements. It provides all the nutrients a child needs in the first six months of a baby’s life and remains an essential food up to the age of two years, along with other foods (WHO).
If you also add the fact that it contains immunological compounds, hormones, enzymes, and growth factors, we can say that breastmilk does not just nourish, but it does so much more than that.
When talking about baby-led weaning, the feeling that the baby is not eating enough and therefore is not being well enough nourished may come from a number of mistaken beliefs:
- The impression that the baby has to eat more food than it really needs.
- In BLW, it is the babies themselves who pick up the food and decide how much to eat based on their own natural signals of hunger and fullness. We may feel that more food ends up on the floor or stays on the plate than in the baby’s mouth, but we have to trust that no one knows better than our baby how much they need to eat.
As for what foods to offer to ensure a good nutritional intake, you can seek the advice of a paediatric dietitian-nutritionist.
Baby-led weaning and breastfeeding are protective against childhood obesity
Different hypotheses try to explain the protective role of breastfeeding in overweight and obesity of infants. Some of them include the content of hormones in relation to energy balance, the regulation of the milk intake by the baby, or their involvement in the infant’s intestinal microbiome are just some of them.
Although more research is still needed on the method of baby-led weaning, respecting a baby’s signs of “I don’t want any more” or “I’m hungry” is one of the best ways to avoid excess weight gain and to promote a healthier relationship with food.
Furthermore, baby-led weaning saves the family money, and so does breastfeeding.
One of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) objectives stated during World Breastfeeding Week: “Breastfeeding is a natural and low-cost way to feed babies and children. It is affordable for everyone and is not a burden on the family budget”.
With this method of introducing solids, the baby should eat what the rest of the family eats, real food. In this way, apart from adding numerous health benefits, you can also save on the expenses of buying “special products for children”.
Maybe you can think of other things that baby-led weaning has in common with breastfeeding. Would you like to tell us about them?
To find out more about introducing solids and baby-led weaning or if you have any other questions about breastfeeding, download our free App, Lactapp for Android or iPhone.
Iria Quintáns (Dietitian/Nutritionist)