In this post we review what the scientific evidence says about BLW and breastfeeding. The Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) method allows the baby to feed itself in a self-regulated manner by eating autonomously with its hands and avoiding the traditional method of spooning pureed food. The method has multiple benefits compared to the traditional method of spooning pureed food. One of the most important is that it might be more respectful with breastfeeding.
There are several published studies that have studied the association between BLW and breastfeeding. Specifically, the studies have focused on the impact of BLW on the duration of breastfeeding. We have selected 5 studies about BLW and breastfeeding and summarized the most important results:
- The randomized clinical trial published by Taylor et al. 2017 (1) found that infants who were fed using the BLW method had significantly longer exclusive breastfeeding than infants who fed were traditionally: 21.7 weeks of exclusive breastfeeding in BLW and 17.3 weeks of exclusive breastfeeding in traditional feeding, p-value=0.02.
- The observational study by Pearce et al. 2021 (2) observed that there was a higher proportion of infants who continued to breastfeed beyond 26 weeks within the BLW method group compared to traditional spoon feeding, specifically 86% in BLW and 73.3% in traditional (p-value=0.026).
- In the study by Townsend et al 2012 (3) observed that BLW-fed babies breastfed significantly longer time than traditionally fed babies, with a very pronounced difference in months of breastfeeding: a mean of 23.7 months in babies who followed the BLW method and 9.5 months in babies fed with the traditional method (p-value <0.0001).
- Amy Brown et al. (4) also observed that BLW-fed infants had significantly longer breastfeeding than traditionally fed infants, but the difference was not as large as in the other studies: a mean of 18.1 weeks in BLW infants and 11.7 weeks in traditionally fed infants.
- Finally, the study by Morison et al. 2016 (5) also observed that BLW-fed infants had a significantly longer duration of breastfeeding than traditionally fed infants: a mean of 22.2 weeks of breastfeeding in BLW infants and 14.4 weeks in spoon-fed infants (p-value=0.003).
It is difficult to compare the results of the studies because each study has measured the duration of breastfeeding differently and they have different follow-up periods which impacts on the calculation of breastfeeding duration. Despite these limitations, all the studies come to the same conclusion: Babies that start their experience with food with the BLW method breastfeed for a longer time.
It is difficult to understand why BLW increases breastfeeding duration, since most of the studies are observational so the families choose which method to follow and the researchers measure the variables with validated questionnaires. In these studies, it is observed that families who choose BLW as a method of food introduction have greater incomes, a higher level of education and a greater awareness of the importance of nutrition and breastfeeding and this fact may bias the results.
However, the study by Taylor et al. 2017 (1) observed the same results despite being a randomized clinical trial, so the researchers assign each family participating in the study which method of food introduction need to follow. Thus, these sociodemographic variables are equal between the two comparison groups, BLW and traditional feeding.
One possible explanation for BLW to increase breastfeeding duration is that these infants do not overfeed with complementary foods, as it happen in the traditional sp method with mashed and, in this way, breastfeeding is not displaced allowing milk to really be the main food until the age of one year. Therefore, the BLW method is believed to be more breastfeeding friendly and contributes to prolonged breastfeeding.
References about BLW and breastfeeding
- Taylor RW, Williams SM, Fangupo LJ, Wheeler BJ, Taylor BJ, Daniels L, et al. Effect of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding on infant growth and overweight: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatr [Internet]. 2017;171(9):838–46.
- Pearce J, Langley-Evans SC. Comparison of food and nutrient intake in infants aged 6–12 months, following baby-led or traditional weaning: A cross-sectional study. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2021 Sep 2;jhn.12947.
- Townsend E, Pitchford NJ. Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case-controlled sample. BMJ Open [Internet]. 2012;2(1):1–6.
- Brown A, Lee M. A descriptive study investigating the use and nature of baby-led weaning in a UK sample of mothers. Matern Child Nutr [Internet]. 2011;7(1):34–47.
- Morison BJ, Taylor RW, Haszard JJ, Schramm CJ, Erickson LW, Fangupo LJ, et al. How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6-8 months. BMJ Open [Internet]. 2016;6(5).