Friday, November 07, 2008

Baby-led Weaning

I've had the good fortune to hear Gill Rapley speak on her work on baby-led weaning a couple of times. In the talks she passes films of babies who were given the chance to decide when and what they would eat from 4 months of age. The recommended age for introducing complementary foods - foods in addition to breastmilk (or formula) - is 6 months of age. And, left to their own devices, that is the age when babies seem themselves to choose to eat. Now Gill has co-authored a book on her studies, available at:

Prior to 6 months they put food - and just about anything they can get their hands on to - into their mouths, but they don't swallow. They explore colours, shapes, textures and tastes, but don't actually eat until 6 months or thereabouts. The poop proves it.
The World Health Organization has studied the subject extensively and the World Health Assembly adopted a Resolution in 1994 giving a public health recommendation of promoting complementary feeding with local foods from about 6 months of age. Under most conditions, their research suggested there is no nutritional need for foods in addition to breastmilk (or formula) prior to 6 months and introduction of foods other than breastmilk before this age makes them more likely to develop infections.

From my experience, companies try to promote the introduction of foods at an earlier age because, in the words of an executive from one company, it stops parents 'drifting into home-prepared foods'. They make special concoctions to be fed by spoon and some parents are drawn into seeing it as a positive sign of development if their child takes to 'solids' at a younger age than its peers.
The industry fought long and hard against the recommendation from the World Health Assembly introduced in 1994. It took further action by the Assembly and a lot of denunciations of breaking of the Resolutions and pressure from the Nestle boycott before Nestle, the largest of the baby food company, agreed, in 2003 (9 years later) that it would stop promoting complementary foods from before 6 months - a promise it has not entirely kept and recent indications are it is backsliding on it. Get babies onto processed foods and the chances are they will then 'progress' through the entire range.
Most countries, including the UK, have adopted policies of not promoting complementary feeding before 6 months of age, though that does not preclude different medical advice if necessary.

With baby-led weaning, babies can share in the family meals (with attention given to salt levels, of course). They develop a discerning palate. And while they may be behind the babies eating processed pap off a spoon, at 8, 9 months they are feeding themselves with a spoon and enjoying what they eat.

At least that is what you see in the films in Gill's presentation and there is plenty of supporting testimony on various discussion groups and boards.

This new book gives plenty of information on the theory and practice of baby-led weaning. It is well worth investigating. Available at:

1 comment:

lostinrain said...

The over-simplified rule of 6 months and older has always disturbed me. My daughter ATE at 4 months. Real, honest-to-goodness slurping in down as fast as she could, eating. By the time she was 7 months old, she refused to be spoon-fed and by the time she was 1 year old she was using a spoon herself. She ate all kinds of healthy things and I made most of her food myself.

My son was not so into eating and would go through phases where he would want to eat, and then not. As with my daughter, I just followed his lead. He is now a year old and an extremely picky eater. He does know how to use a spoon, but mostly just eats for fun and then spits everything back out. He is in great health because he still gets all his milk from me.

There were some studies showing an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in children fed solids before 6 months old. I have not read one that also factors in breastfed vs. formula fed. So as long as my kids are nursing well, I am going to follow their lead with wanting to eat solids. Whether that is at 4 months or over a year old.