French mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincare observed, “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.” After interviewing Dr. Gill Rapley, I am convinced that weaning — like so many aspects of parenting — is a process that is largely about intuition and discovery, even as it is supported by the science.
Gill explained a number of reasons why many parents do not consider baby-led weaning. Many had to do with perceptions, misperceptions, and worries. But a big one was that health care professionals tend not to mention, or understand, baby-led weaning.
Perhaps a study recently published the journal Pediatrics will help to raise awareness of this feeding approach. I hope so. As I learned from talking with Gill, there are several reasons to embrace baby-led weaning. Most boil down to the belief that intuition and discovery are central to human development.
Babies self-regulate their intake
We know that young breastfed infants self-regulate their intake at the breast. It follows, then, that older breastfed infants, if given the opportunity to choose what and when they eat, can self-regulate their food intake. They know when they are no longer hungry and stop eating.
Babies like to explore
Older infants and young children are eager to discover the world around them. Food is just another thing to explore. Babies want to explore what the food looks like, what the texture feels like and — oh by the way — what it tastes like. Is this behavior so different from animals or adult humans?
If we encounter an unfamiliar food, do we want to eat it immediately? Sure, a few of us do! But I’d be willing to bet that far more of us want to look at it, smell it, ask someone else about it, and perhaps even poke at it! Eventually, we take a small taste before we decide to consume an entire forkful.
Authorities tell us to “offer” food at age 6 months, and many of us interpret that as simply making it available. But some interpret it as pushing the spoon in the baby’s mouth to make sure the food is actually consumed!
With baby-led weaning, we allow the baby to pick up food with his hands. We don’t expect him to accept what is on the spoon. And, we don’t expect him to eat the “dose” that we offer on the spoon.
Babies develop as an organism
Our logic tells us that the only thing that matters is whether the baby can capably and safely ingest the food. Therefore, we pick food that our logic sees as appropriate for his teeth and oral cavity. But the baby must also be able to digest, absorb, and eliminate the food.
Intuitively, the baby will select foods that he can pick up and feed himself, and those are the foods he can safely ingest, swallow, digest, absorb, and eliminate. The baby develops as a whole organism.
Leaving appropriate table food within reach allows him to use his intuition to choose the foods right for him. It also allows him to feel part of the family. (Sugary treats, seeds, and other unsafe or inappropriate foods should not be within his reach.)
Babies need to be trusted
When we allow babies to choose when, where, how, and how much they eat, we are giving a message that we trust their intuition. Little children have tremendous insights and intuition. As children grow older, we expect them to rely on science and logic. We consider intuition to be unimportant, or at least, unreliable. Yet it is an essential tool for highly successful people.
Babies don’t have anything to prove
Babies eat and discover. Parents, on the other hand, often feel pressured to prove something. How much weight the baby gains, when he starts solids, and whether he accepts a food are often “measures” of parenting skills. Sometimes, parents feel they must “prove” their baby won’t choke on their new foods, so they puree food (which Gill says — and the new study out of New Zealand shows — is not necessary for safety).
Last thoughts on baby-led weaning
All too often, parents feel driven by what they feel they must prove — or be approved for — food acceptance, feeding method, or weight gain, rather than their babies’ actual health and habits. Baby-led weaning enables infants to discover, and set the pace for their feeding without responding to that pressure.
Have you tried baby-led weaning? What’s your experience? Comment below to share your thoughts!