Qn of the Month: Are Baby Led Weaning (BLW) and Responsive Feeding the Same Terms?

In one sense, Baby Led Weaning (BLW) and responsive feeding are similar in that the baby is given most of the control in feeding, in terms of the pace and actual intake of foods at a meal. However, the difference begins in terms of the consistency/texture of the foods offered. BLW infants should have 90% of their food as finger foods, and begin solids after 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding (Refer to my previous post on Baby Lead Weaning [see How is Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Really Defined? for more details on BLW].

As research continues on the efficacy and safety of BLW as a feeding approach, it should be noted that this feeding method is different from the concept of “responsive feeding” advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO). In all cases regardless if a baby is fed finger foods or purees, in responsive feeding parents are encouraged to support their children during feeding in a responsive manner. Examples of this are to be aware of and respond appropriately to an infant’s hunger and satiety cues, help children respond to internal cues of hunger and fullness, offering healthy foods and promoting healthy food habits, not using foods as a punishment or reward, and to avoid force-feeding. As such, responsive feeding is a broader overarching concept that should be integrated into all aspects of feeding, regardless of what a child is actually fed.

If you ask me, the jury is still out on Baby Lead Weaning as a feeding approach, but ALL parents should embrace the responsive feeding concept!

Qn of the Month: How is Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Really Defined?

Healthy SnackThink of the term Baby Led Weaning and an image of a young baby sitting in the high chair grasping a broccoli spear with a pudgy hand may come to mind. Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a concept first publicized in 2008 from the United Kingdom in the book titled Baby Led Weaning co-authored by Gill Rapley and Tracey Burkett. This concept has become popularized in recent years amongst some mothers. Some of the purported benefits of BLW are better self-regulation, earlier introduction to family foods, and possibly more whole fresh foods offered. On the other hand, some concerns regarding BLW are that this may be unsuitable for infants who are delayed in self-feeding, the risk of choking is uncertain and there could be a possible increased risk of iron/zinc deficiency in breast-fed babies as babies would not be getting that much iron-fortified solids into their diet in that first month or two of starting solids in the form of finger foods.

Unfortunately, BLW research has so far met with many challenges, not least because the term is loosely defined, interpreted, and practiced among those who carry it out. This makes it difficult to study BLW and also compare it across studies, as study participants may be using different BLW techniques. Often many parents are actually using mixed feeding approaches, combining both the spoon feeding of purees, as well as finger food selections at a meal. There is also some skewing of the data as participants for BLW research are often self-selected and self-report that they are implementing this technique.

The good news is that recently leading BLW researchers have created a standardized definition to streamline future studies. So BLW is now clearly defined to be in these 2 stages: the 1st stage is exclusive breast-feeding for 6 months and the 2nd stage is from 6 months on when babies are fed solid food. In this 2nd stage, finger foods are offered 90 percent of the time, with spoon feeding and puréed food used less than 10 percent of the time.

Defined this way, I wonder how many infants out there have really undergone the Baby Led Weaning approach?