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The BLW or Baby-Led Weaning feeding method

The optimal way to feed a baby in the first period of his/her life is mother’s milk, and the goal should be breastfeeding only for the first 6 months of life. If a woman is unwilling or unable to breastfeed for health reasons, modified milk should be the basis of nutrition.

The introduction of complementary products should begin when the infant demonstrates development skills needed to consume them. They should be introduced no earlier than at the beginning of the 5 month of age and no later than at the beginning of the 7 month of age. However, expanding the diet does not mean that breastfeeding should be stopped. The purpose of introducing complementary food is, among others, to provide the baby with additional supply of energy and protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, for which the demand grows together with the infant’s development and is no longer covered by breast milk [1].

 Traditional model of expanding the diet involves feeding the infant with pureed food that gradually becomes more varied as the infant learns to accept different textures and tastes. However, an alternative approach to dietary expansion, called the BLW method, has gained popularity over the past several years [3].

BLW method – what is it?

Baby-Led Weaning or BLW for short is one of the methods of gradually expanding the diet of a baby fed only with mother’s milk with new food. The main idea behind the BLW method is to enable the infant to eat independently. The stage of feeding the baby with a spoon in the form of pulp, puree or mousse is omitted in favor of soft food in the form of parts or pieces (e.g. pieces of boiled carrot, broccoli florets, and apple pieces) served directly to the little one’s hand. In Poland, it is often referred to colloquially as “the baby likes to have a choice”, because this feeding method emphasizes giving the baby a choice – what and how much to eat, thanks to which the baby is supposed to control the entire process of expanding his/her diet [2].

What does the research say about the BLW method?

The BLW feeding method has both its supporters and opponents. There are still discussions around its possible negative influence on child’s health, such as increased risk of choking or higher probability of low vitamins and minerals intake, especially iron [3]. Indeed, in studies that compared the intake of nutrients in both groups – those fed by BLW and traditionally, lower intakes of zinc, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin C, fiber, and calcium were observed in the group of children fed by the BLW method. As far as energy intake is concerned, both groups presented similar values, however, the BLW group demonstrated higher energy intake from total fat, including the excess of saturated fatty acids. This may have resulted from serving food from the family table, which carries the risk of the child consuming nutritionally inappropriate food for the age group [3]. Another study showed that BLW-fed children consumed more carbohydrates and preferred cereal more compared to the traditional group. In contrast, infants from the traditional group were more likely to consume sweets [4]. There are also not many studies that clearly support higher risk of choking in the BLW method group. This certainly requires further observation.

Among the benefits of the BLW method, its supporters mention the impact on the lower risk of developing obesity through self-regulation of appetite and satiety mechanisms and better development of motor skills. In the case of body mass index (BMI), studies show diversified results. Some studies have shown that BLW-fed children actually have lower obesity rates compared to the traditionally-fed group, while other studies have found no statistically significant difference between BMI of BLW-fed and traditionally-fed children. The fact that BLW-fed children are encouraged to participate in family meals without the pressure of time and amount of food consumed, and to interact with food, by exploring sensory aspects widely, through different food textures, is certainly beneficial for them and their relations with food [3].

How to start feeding your child using the BLW method?

Before parents decide to expand the diet of their toddlers using the BLW method, they should pay attention to several important issues. First of all, it can be introduced for children 6-7 months old, who can already sit on their own and begin to show interest in food other than breast milk or modified milk. Parents should also pay attention to whether the child pushes food out of mouth with a tongue. If it happens, it’s good not to expand the diet yet. Moreover, it’s recommended to match the food served to the child to its age group, i.e. it should be natural, with no salt and sugar added or no food additives. The child should be given food in such a way so that it is easy to grasp. This can be, for example, soft-cooked, but not falling apart, pieces of vegetables, or fruit cut to a length longer than the child’s palm, or thick-cooked porridge, which the child will be able to grasp easily. In order to prevent the risk of choking while feeding using the BLW method, the child should be observed during meal time and never left alone without adult supervision.

In conclusion, there are scientific studies that speak both in favor of and against the BLW feeding method. According to the new principles of nutrition of healthy infants published in January 2021 by the Polish Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition there are no convincing arguments neither for nor against the use of the BLW method [1]. Both the method of traditional diet expansion, as well as the BLW method have their advantages and disadvantages, so these are the parents who should decide which feeding method is more beneficial for their child.

Sources:

  • [1] Szajewska H. i wsp.: Zasady żywienia zdrowych niemowląt. Stanowisko Polskiego Towarzystwa Gastroenterologii, Hepatologii i Żywienia Dzieci. Standardy Medyczne/Pediatria, 2021; 18: 805 – 822
  • [2] Brown A. i wsp.: Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date, Current Nutrition Reports, 2017, 6(2): 148–156.
  • [3] Gomez M.S. i wsp.:  Baby-led weaning, an overview of the new approach to food introduction: integrative literature review. Revista Paulista de Pediatria, 2020, 38: e2018084.
  • [4] Townsend E., Pitchford N.J.: Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case–controlled sample, BMJ Open, 2012, 2(1): e000298.

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