When it comes to starting solid foods, there are two ways to go about it. There's the traditional method — you mash or puree fruits and vegetables, and you spoonfeed your baby. Then there's baby-led weaning — it's up to the baby to feed himself with his hands, so it's a bit messy. Some moms, like travel and mom blogger Paula Peralejo-Fernando, combine both methods. Her son Pablo likes soup, so she spoonfeeds it to him, but then she also lets her son have his way with food.
One of the popular reasons why baby-led weaning became popular is previous studies showed babies who were weaned through the baby-led approach were less likely to be overweight and more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI). As a New York Times report pointed out, baby-led weaning is "based on the premise that infants might be better self-regulators of their food consumption."
However, a recent study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that six- to 24-month-old babies who were introduced to solid food through baby-led weaning still overeat and had no significant effect on the child's BMI.
The study wanted to answer this question: Does a baby-led approach to complementary feeding reduce the risk for overweight?
It tapped two groups of babies. One group received typical, standard child care and nutrition guidelines. Another group got more support. They had consultations with lactation counselors who encouraged them to breastfeed for an extended period, and the researchers taught the parents about reading hunger and fullness cues. All parents received recipe books, food ideas, and safety information.
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At the end of the study, researchers concluded: "A baby-led approach to complementary feeding does not appear to result in healthier growth or a reduced risk for overweight compared with traditional feeding practices."
The study showed that even if babies were left to eat on their own early on, they still tend to overeat and end up overweight by the time they're age 2. But researchers highlighted the good points from the results of the study:
Baby-led weaned children were less picky about food. Baby-led weaned children seemed to enjoy the food more. Giving kids their own food choices contributed to a more positive attitude to eating. Letting babies choose between options you are comfortable with makes it a win-win for both parties.
There is no point in forcing kids to eat. You've probably heard the advice to let babies grow hungry, and they will eat anything you serve them. Those people who shared that tip may have a point. Sure, you can encourage them to eat their veggies but never force them.
Your child's early overall experience with food affects his attitude towards eating, so always make mealtime fun and enjoyable for them, even if it creates a mess. Focus on teaching your baby to recognize his hunger cues instead of how much amount of food he eats. This applies to whatever approach you decide to use
Having a healthy attitude towards food is going to influence your child's food choices and help him have a healthy relationship with food as he grows.