Baby-led weaning – Ministry position statement

Currently, the Ministry of Health does not recommend baby-led weaning (BLW) as population health advice in New Zealand.

There is very little research on BLW. The Ministry of Health would require evidence that BLW is a developmentally and nutritionally safe practice before recommending it at a population health level as an acceptable alternative to current weaning advice.

Background

The baby-led weaning (BLW) approach to introducing solids to babies has three main features.

  • Baby food, including first foods, should be in a whole food form as finger food rather than the more traditional purée.
  • The baby self-feeds by selecting and picking up their food of choice from what is on offer, instead of being fed by someone else.
  • As with the currently recommended approach, complementary feeding starts when the baby is developmentally ready for solid food, ie, can sit up with less help, can pick up foods and bring them to their mouth, and is showing signs of being interested in foods (ie, at about six months of age).

Anecdotally BLW is gaining in popularity as an alternative to the current advice. Current advice involves starting with spoon-fed purée foods when baby is developmentally ready (around 6 months), then moving onto mashed and chopped foods over the next few months. Finger foods are offered from 7–8 months when baby is able to pick them up, bring to his/her mouth and chew them.

Supporters claim BLW has a number of benefits over the current advice. For example, some consider BLW may help prevent the development of obesity by continuing the self-regulation of food intake associated with exclusive breastfeeding. BLW may encourage greater awareness of internal hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness) cues in infants, which could ultimately lead to better energy self-regulation. If so this may help address the growing obesity problem being faced in New Zealand and elsewhere. There are, however, concerns BLW could negatively impact on infant iron status, and increase the risk of food-related choking and growth faltering in infants.

Currently very little research has been done on BLW. The Ministry of Health would require evidence that BLW does not have detrimental effects on iron status, growth and choking risk before it would recommend this approach at a population health level as an acceptable alternative approach to infant weaning. In addition, evidence of benefit, for instance, in the prevention of overweight, is needed before BLW is recommended as best practice population based nutrition advice in New Zealand.

Next steps

More research is currently being done on BLW and the Ministry will review new evidence as it becomes available.

Key references

Rapley G, Murkett T. Baby-led Weaning. London: Vermilion, 2008.

Reeves S. 2008. Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin 33: 108–110.

Sachs M. 2011. Baby-led weaning and current UK recommendations – are they compatible? Maternal and Child Nutrition 7(1): 1–2.

Wright CM, Cameron K, et al. 2011. Is baby-led weaning feasible? When do babies first reach out for and eat finger foods? Maternal and Child Nutrition 7(1): 27–33.

Brown A and Lee M. 2011. A descriptive study investigating the use and nature of baby-led weaning in a UK sample of mothers. Maternal and Child Nutrition 7(1): 34–47.

Rapley G. 2011. Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner 84 (6): 20–23.

Cameron SL, Heath ALM and Taylor RW (2012). How feasible is baby-led weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence. Nutrients 4: 1575–1609.

Information for health practitioners on baby-led weaning.

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