The 5 Biggest Fears that Stop Parents from Doing Baby-Led Weaning
Recently I surveyed my audience of moms with babies from instagram asking, “Whats the #1 thing holding you back from trying new foods with your baby?”
I received over 200 responses, and it was amazing that while parents and caregivers had different ways of expressing what they’re scared about, most responses fell into 1 of 5 categories…here’s a snippet:
Of the 221 responses, the primary fears about feeding listed awere:
Gagging / Choking (87)
Allergies / Reactions (47)
Mess / Waste (22)
What to Feed? (41)
Confusion / Misinformation about baby-led weaning (24)
So let’s take a little closer look at each of these fears…
Baby Gagging and Choking on Food
This is by FAR the most commonly cited fear about starting solid food, whether you’re doing traditional weaning or baby-led weaning.
It may be helpful to train and then remind yourself that gagging is a natural and necessary part of learning how to eat.
Feeding specialists as well as my friend and colleague Dawn Winkelmann, MS, CCC-SLP often uses the analogy about learning how to walk when you’re trying to get comfortable with baby gagging:
When a baby is learning how to walk, it is inevitable that she is going to fall down from time to time. But we don’t jump in and cut off baby’s ability to learn how to walk just because she falls down, right?
Same goes for learning how to eat - a reasonable amount of gagging is to be expected during the first few weeks and months of learning how to eat solid foods.
Knowing what foods to avoid that are choking risks is also important for preventing choking.
But parents often get confused between gagging and choking, and here’s an easy way to differentiate:
With gagging there is noise - and noise is good, because
With choking there is often silence and baby will turn blue…blue is bad
A baby can recover from a gag by himself without any intervention from the caregiver. Lunging at baby or whacking his back during a gag can turn a harmless (albeit uncomfortable) gag into a true choking event. A true choking incident requires intervention and parents are recommended to take a refresher infant CPR course prior to starting solid foods in order to be able to identify and react to an actual choking event.
2. Allergies and Reactions
Parents are understandably concerned or fearful about food allergies. If your baby has an existing food allergy or severe eczema, or if the parents have food allergies - then there is certainly reason for additional concern about baby developing further food allergies.
But if your baby is NOT at high risk for food allergy, then early introduction of the potential allergen foods is recommended. This is particularly true with peanut - for more information on early introduction of peanut protein click here and here.
Babies can eat all of the “big 8” allergen foods as they are learning to eat. There is no reason to wait until after baby has turned 1 or later in the weaning process to trial. Certainly you want to provide age and texture appropriate variations of these allergen foods but early exposure to certain allergen proteins appears to be protective against development of future food allergy.
When it comes to reactions, having Benadryl and/or an Epi-Pen on hand in the event baby has a negative or anaphylactic reaction may help ease parents’ worry. For more information about anaphylaxis click here.
3. Food Mess and Waste
There’s no way around it, feeding a baby is messy. And that’s ok…because exploring ALL of the aspects of food is part of baby learning how to eat.
Parents who are hesitant about baby-led weaning because of the mess should keep in mind that spoon-feeding isn’t entirely unmessy either.
And the goal is not to prevent mess.
Our babies pushing and playing with and smashing and smelling food are all components of learning HOW to eat.
Dawn Winkelmann, MS, CCC-SLP - the feeding expert for ezpz recommends AGAINST constantly wiping baby’s mouth during feeding. Check out the facebook live video in this post for more information on how to manage mess without constantly wiping during eating.
When it comes to waste, the best solution to minimize food waste with baby-led weaning is to use a splash mat on the floor. If you have a clean splash mat under baby’s chair you can immediately recycle dropped food back up on to the plate to give baby a second (or third or fourth :) chance at maybe getting that food in his mouth!
4. Not Knowing WHAT to Feed
If you’re on the fence about baby-led weaning because you are unsure about WHAT to feed…it may help to know that babies can eat ALMOST everything…within reason.
Think of a food or a dish you are craving or would like to eat RIGHT now.
There are components of that food your baby can enjoy too.
What if it’s Pad Thai?
Well babies can have:
Peanuts (better if crushed or spread thin vs. thick globs or chunks of intact nuts)
For Pad Thai you would want to avoid salty sauces, crunchy intact nuts, too tough tofu….but you get the point - SOME of those ingredients work for baby.
When figuring out what to feed your baby, focus on variety. The greater the variety of fruits, vegetables, animal foods and grains and starches your baby is exposed to, the less likely he or she is to become a picky eater.
And we know that parent eating patterns also set the stage for picky eating. If YOU have a severely restricted or limited palate, challenge yourself to expand the foods you eat, knowing that this will help expose your baby to more foods down the road.
For additional information on what foods you can feed your baby, check out my free online workshop “BABY-LED WEANING FOR BEGINNERS: How to get YOUR baby to eat 100 foods BEFORE turning one without YOU having to spoon-feed purees or buy pouches”.
Click here to sign up for the free online BLW workshop.
5. Confusion and Misinformation about Baby-Led Weaning
There is no shortage of misinformation and myths about baby-led weaning if you look online. You’ll hear people say it’s dangerous, or your baby can’t get enough iron, or that it’s more expensive than spoon-feeding or leads to growth faltering…and the fact is, none of this is true!
In our recent Facebook Live training called “The 5 Biggest Fears that Stop Parents from Doing Baby-Led Weaning” Dawn Winkelmann, MS, CCC-SLP and myself (Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE) ended the session with a back and forth about the myths we encounter about BLW in our daily practices.
If you want to check that training out, click on the FB Live video below.