Is Baby-Led Weaning the Solution to Picky Eating Habits Among Kids?
Picky eating is a common problem many parents face with their children. Read this article to find out if baby-led weaning is the solution.
The worries parents have about picky eaters are many.
You fret about little things, like how you can’t go even on a simple trip to a mall for the day, because your child won’t eat.
You worry about big things, like his nutrition and development.
You stress about preparing his meals, because you know that however much effort you put into it, he’s probably going to reject the meal anyway.
All this may leave you feeling quite disheartened and anxious, and wondering if it is just a phase or a habit here to stay.
Mums, you are not alone.
Feeding difficulties are actually quite common in young children worldwide, with around 50 to 60 percent of parents globally who consider their kids to be picky eaters.
The issue of ‘picky eating’ among Singaporean children is also more common than you think.
In fact, a study (Goh, D and Jacob, A, 2012) conducted by the National University Hospital (NUH) found that nearly 1 in 2 Singaporean parents say their child is a picky eater.
What do the experts say?
Dr William Maclean was recently invited to speak at the International Summit on the Identification and Management of Children with Feeding Difficulties by Abbott Nutrition.
According to Dr William MacLean, who is a clinical professor at the Department of Pediatrics, Ohio State University, picky eating in children is generally a matter of parental perception, and of those kids who are considered to be picky eaters, only 3-4% are of great cause for concern.
He says that when children start eating, it’s quite natural for them to show a dislike for vegetables because of the initial unfamiliar flavour to their taste buds.
Also, parents tend to give up on a particular food if their child rejects it once or twice.
However, Dr MacLean explains that a child needs to try a new food 10-15 times before they can truly decide whether they like it or not.
Is baby-led weaning the solution to picky eating?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) means allowing your child to eat by himself, right from the age when you first introduce solids (around the 6-month mark, in accordance with WHO guidelines).
While there are many advantages of waiting until your baby is this old to start solids, baby-led weaning advocates argue that around this age, babies are developmentally ready to feed themselves proper food, and not purées such as those that are traditionally offered.
This way, the baby learns to eat with the family and learn about what they are eating from a very young age, and completely bypass the mushy food stage.
With baby-led weaning, babies learn to eat what they are given. They form a natural appreciation and enjoyment of food because they are allowed to handle, taste and eat the food by themselves.
Because of this, the chances of them turning out to be ‘picky eaters’ is highly unlikely.
How does baby-led weaning work?
It’s very simple — you just cut up chunks of whatever you are eating as a family into manageable bite-sized pieces or ‘sticks’ and offer them to your baby.
Of course, you need to be aware of the salt and sugar content of what you’re giving your child. It’s best to separate what you plan to offer your baby before you add salt or sugar to it.
The main difference between BLW and traditional weaning techniques is how children learn to eat.
With more traditional methods of weaning where purees are almost always the first types of food offered, a baby learns to swallow first, and then chew, which is fine until they find a lump and so begins the gagging, choking and refusal to eat.
With BLW however, children learn to chew first, while swallowing might happen later on in the process.
When you introduce food to children this way, you also don’t have to worry too much about whether or not they are actually swallowing their food, because until at least 1 year, they get the bulk of their calories from milk.
By the time they are 1 year old and start needing calories from other sources of food, you can rest assured that they would be little pros at feeding themselves!
How to get started with BLW
Here are some great tips from Siobhan Harris (WebMD), as well as from www.babyledweaning.com:
- Do not start BLW until your child is able to sit up straight and pick up pieces of food on his own — this is usually around the 6-month mark.
- Start with foods that are easy to pick up and and hold, and cut them into thick sticks or long strips, e.g., steamed sweet potato, cooked broccolli florets, low-salt cheese, strips of cooked chicken or coarsely mashed potato.
- Try to avoid offering very small foods as babies might find it hard to pick them up, and avoid whole grapes and nuts as they may pose a choking risk.
- Allow your child to eat with you as a family as it’ll encourage him to copy you. There’s no reason why a 6-month-old shouldn’t try noodles, rice or spaghetti (without salt/sugar) if you’re having it.
- Right through the BLW process, keep giving milk and offering water to drink. Do remember that at this stage, food should not be a substitute for milk (the WHO and Health Promotion Board of Singapore recommend breastfeeding for at least 6 months — and beyond, if possible).
- Avoid bowls as it’s highly likely they and the contents will end up on the floor. Instead, put the food on the highchair tray or table.
- Expect a big mess so invest in some good, easy-to-clean bibs, or better yet, let baby eat semi-naked.
- Let your child put food in his mouth by himself so he can control it as it moves backwards — do not put food in your child’s mouth yourself.
- If your baby gags, don’t panic and just remember it’s how he moves food around in his mouth and learns about different food textures.
- As your baby grows older and becomes better at feeding himself, let him experiment with different tastes and textures.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who is an internationally renowned baby and toddler expert, advocates BLW as the best way to introduce your baby to solid food.
She explains that trusting your baby and allowing him/her to control how much he/she eats promotes healthy eating habits that will stay with him/her for life.
Therefore, the parents’ task is to provide their baby with healthy, nutrition-packed food options.
If you want to start baby-led weaning with your child, click here for some great BLW recipes provided by active BLW enthusiasts.
You can also check out Baby-led weaning Singapore’s Facebook page for great tips, recipes and discussion threads (it’s a closed group so just request the friendly admins to add you by clicking ‘Join Group’)
Goh, DYT and Jacob, A. 2012. Perception of picky eating among children in Singapore and its impact on caregivers: A questionnaire survey. Asia Pacific Family Medicine, 11:5.
Do you follow BLW or are you thinking about giving it a try with your little one? If you already are an advocate of BLW do share your tips with us by leaving a comment below.