Self-feeding (baby-led solid feeding)

What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning, also known as self-feeding, is the practice of allowing babies to introduce solid foods into their diets by feeding themselves, choosing from an assortment of regular foods that are also eaten by the rest of the family. It has become popular in North America and Europe. It allows babies to start different foods at their own pace and to handle the food instead of being fed with a spoon. If the baby rejects a food, it is offered again at a later date. Softer foods are offered at first, and foods that may cause choking are not. Sips of liquid, such as expressed breast milk, cow’s milk, water, or infant formula are also offered at meals. The baby may use a spoon if able. Studies indicate that self-feeding is a reasonable approach, but more research is needed on its effects.

A) Describing self-feeding

Baby-led weaning”, also known as baby-led solid feeding or self-feeding, describes the practice of allowing babies to lead the introduction of solid foods into their diet by feeding themselves family foods (Rapley 2008).

The term baby-led weaning can be confusing because weaning also means stopping breastfeeding but baby-led weaning means adding solid foods while continuing to breastfeed. As such, we will use the term self-feeding.

Self-feeding has become increasingly popular in North America and Europe. It allows babies to start eating different foods at their own pace and of their own choosing. It also allows them to handle their food, making mealtime more interactive.

B) How a baby self-feeds

 The basic principles of self-feeding are:

  • The baby chooses what to eat after being presented with a variety of solid foods.
  • If the baby rejects a food, it is offered again at a later date.
  • The baby is allowed to decide how much to eat.
  • No food is offered to the baby with a spoon by the caregiver at the end of the meal.
  • The meals should not be hurried.
  • Sips of liquids such as expressed breast milk, cow’s milk, water, or infant formula are offered with meals.
  • Initially, softer foods are given.
  • Foods that present a choking risk are not offered.
  • The baby uses a spoon, when able, in order to learn to self-feed.

C) Evidence about self-feeding

There is limited evidence that self-feeding results in less obesity and food fussiness in breastfed babies (Brown 2017; Fu 2018; Jones 2020; Kumar 2018; Slomski 2017; Taylor 2017). More research is needed.

The studies show that self-feeding is, at least, a reasonable approach to giving solid foods for some babies (Cameron 2012; Cichero 2016; Williams Erickson 2018). It may support the child's development (Addessi 2021). There does not appear to be an increased risk of choking or low iron or zinc levels (Brown 2017; Daniels 2018a; Daniels 2018b; Fangupo 2016).

The baby’s choices may result in a less balanced diet (Leong 2018).

Self-feeding can be combined with adult-led spoon feeding to improve the baby’s diet. However you choose to feed your baby, ensure that your baby has a wide variety of foods, including some that contain iron.

References

Addessi E, Galloway AT, Wingrove T, et al. Baby-led weaning in Italy and potential implications for infant development. Appetite. 2021 May 4:105286

Brown A. No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2017 Dec 5
 
Brown A, Jones SW, Rowan H. Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to date. Curr Nutr Rep. 2017;6(2):148-156
 
Cameron SL, Heath AL, Taylor RW. How feasible is Baby-led Weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence. Nutrients. 2012 Nov 2;4(11):1575-609
 
Cichero, J. Introducing solid foods using baby‐led weaning vs. spoon‐feeding: A focus on oral development, nutrient intake and quality of research to bring balance to the debate. Nutr Bull 2016; 41: 72–77
 
Daniels L, Taylor RW, Williams SM, et al. (Daniels 2018a). Impact of a modified version of baby-led weaning on iron intake and status: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 2018 Jun 27;8(6):e019036
 
Daniels L, Taylor RW, Williams SM, et al. (Daniels 2018b). Modified Version of Baby-Led Weaning Does Not Result in Lower Zinc Intake or Status in Infants: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Jun;118(6):1006-1016.e1
 
Fangupo LJ, Heath AM, Williams SM, et al. A baby-led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics. 2016 Oct;138(4). pii: e20160772
 
Fu X, Conlon CA, Haszard JJ, et al. Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite. 2018 Nov 1;130:110-116

Jones SW, Lee M, Brown A. Spoon feeding is associated with increased infant weight but only amongst formula-fed infants. Matern Child Nutr. 2020 Jan 13:e12941 

Kumar G. Baby-led weaning did not significantly impact body mass index when compared with traditional spoon-feeding. Arch Dis Child Educ Pract Ed. 2018 Aug;103(4):222
 
Leong C, Haszard JJ, Lawley B, et al. Mediation Analysis as a Means of Identifying Dietary Components That Differentially Affect the Fecal Microbiota of Infants Weaned by Modified Baby-Led and Traditional Approaches. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018 Aug 31;84(18). pii: e00914-18
 
Rapley G, Murkett T. Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. Chatham, Me.: Vermilion, 2008. Print
 
Slomski A. Baby-Led Weaning Does Not Reduce Risk of Overweight. JAMA. 2017 Oct 24;318(16):1532
 
Taylor RW, Williams SM, Fangupo LJ, et al. Effect of a Baby-Led Approach to Complementary Feeding on Infant Growth and Overweight: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2017 Sep 1;171(9):838-846
 
Williams Erickson L, Taylor RW, Haszard JJ, et al. Impact of a Modified Version of Baby-Led Weaning on Infant Food and Nutrient Intakes: The BLISS Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Jun 7;10(6). pii: E740