My Bone to Pick with Baby-Led Weaning

July 24, 2014

I have a bone to pick with baby-led weaning, literally. Baby-led weaning is a new feeding method in which children feed themselves independently from the first introduction of solid food – usually around 6 months. Rising in popularity, this new trend has babies forego “mush” (purées) and spoon feeding and go directly to solid foods from the get-go. Baby-led weaning can be summarized in one word to me: DANGEROUS.

And I only need one picture to prove my point.

My Bone to Pick with Baby-Led WeaningCase closed.

This picture was taken from www.babyledweaning.com, the mothership of baby-led weaning. On the front page of the website they showcase this infant (probably about 8 months old) and even brag “check out the baby with the pork chop!” as a model success story.

I don’t know about you, but just looking at that picture makes my heart palpitate. Are you serious? Do you see that this child is gnawing on a bone? There are some days I don’t fully trust my husband with his plate of hot wings; I certainly wouldn’t take my infant and literally throw him or her a bone!

If that doesn’t kill the idea for you, let’s get into the meat of the issue a bit more.

Let’s play follow the leader. The baby-led weaning movement was started in the UK by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. Gill Rapley is a “health visitor” who had a short stunt as a midwife. A health visitor is a term used in the UK to describe a registered nurse with midwife qualifications who has undertaken further training in child health, health promotion, and public health. Tracey Murkett is a freelance writer and journalist also out of the UK. Call me Negative Nancy, but I don’t think a health visitor and a journalist have the credentials to change the world of feeding infants as we know it, at least not without a boat-load of research. But wait a minute… On that note, where is the research? There is almost nothing! Seriously. Try looking up scholarly articles yourself. You will find very few. Now you will find plenty of forums on Babycenter, but remember, that does not qualify as actual evidence for supporting this method.

What’s the problem anyway? 3 major points:

  • Choking: I am extremely concerned with the choking risk. One of the few studies I found reported that 30% of babies using the baby-led weaning method had at least one choking episode, usually on raw apple. That is simply scary! Baby-led weaning recommends all sorts of foods that have a much higher risk of choking. Even if you keep your eyes glued on your baby while he or she devours that pork chop (which, let’s be honest, it’s impossible to watch your baby every second of the eating process), all it takes is one choking episode that could lead to death. That is too much to risk.
  • Decreased calories: A lot of babies (toddlers, and even some teenagers) prefer to play with their food rather than eat it. I have personally cared for infants that have fallen off their growth chart and stopped growing because mom insisted on baby-led weaning. Babies do not gain weight by sucking on a piece of avocado and then spitting it out. Because of this, babies on baby-led weaning are also at higher risk for iron deficient anemia.
  • What’s so wrong with “mush” anyway? I have to be honest, mashed potatoes is still one of my personal favorites. There is simply no reason to treat purées like the plague. Infants and adults alike eat soft, puréed foods.

The longer I practice, the more I find all children at all ages need strong parental role models to model everything for them! Nothing comes automatically. Nothing. But that’s just life. And that’s why your job as a parent is so important! This is the case when it comes to feeding. You have already been in charge of your infant’s eating by breastfeeding or formula feeding since they were born. Transitioning slowly to solid food by starting with rice cereal, oatmeal, and veggie and fruit purees is safer and much more supported by research. Let’s skip giving bones to babies and continue leading our children in safe and effective feeding methods.

  1. Liz says:

    Thank you for the COMMON SENSE you bring to this bone eating table !!! I was researching this method and realized that in many of the forums the parents are worried because their babies are GAGGING and VOMITTING. What a horrific thing to have to do every day when you sit down to eat, gag and vomit. How enlightened and fun that must be forever those poor babies.
    You hit every single nail on the head in this post, we are there to lead as mamas, not just let the baby figure it out, especially not with something this dangerous and important. I am an RN with a 5 year old and a 5 month old who is exclusively breastfed. As a “baby wearing, breastfeeding,”,nurse mama- I am exhausted by the never ending ideas of what’s “natural” just meaning something that’s not safe and really not natural for humans with the big brains we have when compared to all other creatures.
    Wake up and take care of your babies!!!!

  2. Cassie says:

    I completely agree!! I’m really tired of people acting like it’s better than puréed food and like we’re doing a disservice to our children to feed them that. I’ve heard people say “well is your kid going to eat puréed foods forever?” For one that’s just really mean, harsh, and childish to say. And why is this called Baby led weaning anyways?! It’s NOT!! We’re just giving them huge pieces of food and hoping they don’t choke. I don’t get it at all.

  3. Kay says:

    Agreed!! I am a speech-language pathologist who worked with adults with swallowing disorders (dysphagia) for 5 years before moving into the school systems…as a mother with a 10 month old I had a hard enough going from breastmilk to thicker puree, knowing all that I do about swallowing. I would never give half of my patients without teeth any sort of tough meat or raw vegetables, let alone a baby who has never even chewed before! We take for granted all we know…what’s next, baby led potty training and just let them be incontinent all over the place? I don’t get it … I have one word for baby-led weaning and it’s WRECKLESS.

  4. Carolin says:

    It is very clear from your article that you have done absolutely no research on this matter, so allow me to help you out:

    1) there is no higher choking risk with baby Led Weaning. In fact, even babies who do traditional weaning can (and do) choke. Here are some links for your consideration:
    https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/4/e20160772 (from the AAP. Quote: “Infants following a baby-led approach to feeding that includes advice on minimizing choking risk do not appear more likely to choke than infants following more traditional feeding practices.”)
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jhn.12528 (Quote: ” No significant association was found between weaning style and ever choking, or the frequency of spoon or puree use and ever choking. For infants who had ever choked, infants following a traditional weaning approach experience significantly more choking episodes for finger foods (F2,147 = 4.417, P = 0.014) and lumpy purees (F2,131 = 6.46, P = 0.002) than infants following a strict or loose baby‐led approach.”)
    The gag reflex in infants is situated forward in their mouths, which protects them from choking, but does lead to a lot of gagging (and gagging is not dangerous).

    2) Please enlighten me how pureed peas are more nutritious than a healthy balanced diet that is shared as family meals.
    If you’re concerned that a child is not gaining weight, upping bm or formula intake is more appropriate; after all l, there are more calories in BM or formula than any solids. Again, how can pureed veggies or fruits have more calories than that? They don’t.

    3) There is nothing wrong with mush. As long as it is something that is part of a meal (like the mashed potatoes you mention) and is self-fed by the infant.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with a traditional approach, starting with purees and gradually increase the sizes of foods, and I agree that blw might not be for everyone. But to just throw out a blanket statement like “it’s dangerous” (when studies clearly show it is not any more dangerous than TW), is very careless, especially coming from a nurse.

    • Lia says:

      She is using common sense saying that it is dangerous because it is. Purées do not lodge in a throat like a hunk of other food would. It’s completely unnecessary to do baby led weaning. Even birds in nature do not do this to their young. They chew it up and regurgitate it. I do not believe our ancestors did baby led weaning as my natural instinct would be to rip pieces to be very small once it’s time to feed baby solids.

    • Catherine says:

      You could not be more wrong. I am the director of an infant center where I have had scores of babies, none of whom have choked on puree. I did have 1 BLW baby who choked and vomited every meal until I had to stop the practice and tell her mother we could no longer accommodate that style of feeding. I even made an addition to our Family Manual stating clearly that we will NOT accommodate BLW for safety reasons.

  5. Kati says:

    I am absolutely flabbergasted at this whole idea. What is our culture doing to babies? There’s this whole revolution of teaching our babies “independence” and must we go so low as to tally this into them feeding themselves? Obviously, we don’t want to raise our babies. And obviously we want to be selfish and not take the time to literally lift our hand to spoon feed them at the diner table. It’s too much exertion on using our muscles to bend our knuckles. We want them to raise themselves because, oh no, it is just oh so much work so let them figure out everything themselves. We care more about how to decorate their nursery’s by browsing endlessly on Pinterest than actually spend time in their nursery teaching them — through play! Give me a break. Yes! It is pure laziness and recklessness. Might as well not even call it parenting because you know what, you’re not being a true parent. Babies expose all our selfishness, sorry! And news flash: we go to school to be taught so we won’t be dumb, right? Then why the heck do we think babies will know what to do without being taught? Can anyone agree with me and tell me this is ALL backwards?? Babies learn from parents. If one chooses to watch their baby almost die and is okay with it, I seriously question what the next generation will be like… Also, you know what, parents who are proponents of everything “independence” will have a rude awakening when they tell their child “no” when they are older and start to be their own adult. Just saying!

  6. Pamela Cannalla says:

    Thank you , I have been an infant caregiver for 34 years . I find this method to be very dangerous. I have an extremely under weight child in my classroom. The parents have no clue as to what their doing . I find it very sad and frightening….

  7. Cindy says:

    My friend swears by this idiotic method, and I always thought it was ridiculous but didn’t know how cruel it was until today. I saw her poor 7 month old gagging, her little eyes watering because she swallowed a firm cooked carrot the size of a half-dollar coin. The amount of time you feed them cereals and purees is so short, how lazy must you be to find that a hindrance? And what is the great benefit of this method? Her older child is a picky 5 year old, like every other 5 year old.

  8. A concerned pediatrician says:

    This is so incorrect and poorly researched you should be ashamed of fear mongering like this. Educate yourself and your patients so you can provide more accurate information. Even the AAP acknowledges there is no increased risk of choking. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934812/

    • Kimberly says:

      I’m sorry, but show me some information from the U.S. I don’t give a rat’s patootie what they think in Italy. It’s a crazy way of being lazy. I guarantee you that your mother/father/caregiver did not feed you in this manner if you are over the age of 10!!! This is millennial crap if I’ve ever seen it.

  9. Nicole says:

    Omg I am so glad I found this page, as first time mum everyone around me keeps talking about BLW and every time I did some research about it I was mortified… I just couldn’t work out what I wasn’t understanding. Now my midwife today tells me when starting solids make sure you give them stuff they can grab…. Mind you she just had a go at me about how small my baby was. If I give my 6mth old the food to feed herself she will either one die or two loose more weight. I’m thinking like WTF.
    Has this world gone crazy? I’m not going to be still feeding mush when she is 8, like I wouldn’t be expecting to teach her Pythagoras when she is 8, everything in good time I reckon.
    My mummy gut has a big no on this one right now

  10. Tanya says:

    I’m glad people are honestly speaking out! For my business as a CPR Instuctor, Infant Led Weaning is great! I am CONSTANTLY having parents come and take training on what to do if their baby chokes. However this in itself confuses me. If the parents are so concerned about their child choking, why do they decide to do it!? In every other aspect of child rearing society is over protecting children and not taking any risks… but we are risking obstructing their airway everytime we offer them food?
    When parents ask me my opinion on Infant Led Weaning, I always tell them that the first step of First Aid is prevention, and then I tell them that the baby is THEIR child, they are the ones to decide how to raise their child… and they should only do things they feel comfortable with.
    But what I want to say is “how would you enjoy sucking on your steak when you have no teeth?”!

  11. Josie Bradshaw says:

    I just lost a whole lotta brain cells reading this post and the majority of these comments. How dare you shame mothers by calling them lazy for doing BLW! Do you know how much extra work it is!? Go do some research and talk to parents who have actually done it! In fact, talk to parents who have done it with one but not the other and they will tell you their experience with both. Stop deal mongering and do some damn research. Just because it “looks scary” doesnt mean that it actually is. Oh and ALL parents should be taking a first aid and CPR class. So maybe the BLW parents are just smarter for doing it 🤷‍♀️

    • I just lost a whole lotta brain cells reading this post and the majority of these comments. How dare you shame mothers by calling them lazy for doing BLW! Do you know how much extra work it is!? Go do some research and talk to parents who have actually done it! In fact, talk to parents who have done it with one but not the other and they will tell you their experience with both. Stop fear mongering and do some damn research. Just because it “looks scary” doesnt mean that it actually is. Oh and ALL parents should be taking a first aid and CPR class. So maybe the BLW parents are just smarter for doing it 🤷‍♀️

  12. Elizabeth says:

    This post and subsequent comments are incredibly ignorant. Baby led weaning is not lazy and is certainly not dangerous, if done correctly. Before starting, we asked our pediatrician, who gave it her full backing. Our 11 month old eats everything from scallops and salmon to lentils, avocado and hummus. I challenge anyone to tell me his diet isn’t as healthy as a baby being spoon fed puréed peas. It’s a personal choice and we as a family prioritize family meals. Our baby sits at the table with his family members for food and conversation breakfast, lunch and dinner and is learning not only how to eat, but social aspects of meals. To the poster who commented that it’s impossible to watch a baby eat every second – that is absolutely not true, especially when you are sitting and eating with him. We are not being lazy by “refusing” to take the time to spoon feed him. Instead, we are taking the time to prepare him nutritious, low sodium, sugar-free foods in safe portions and prioritizing family meals. This argument is as dumb as breastfeeding vs. formula. It’s a personal decision and as long as you are making it safely and well-informed, mind your own business.

    • Tracy says:

      I believe the first rule of BLW is to make sure the whole food you’re serving your baby is soft enough and is not a choking hazard. Just because there are some people doing it wrong on the internet doesn’t make this method dangerous and stupid. And it is extremely ignorant and arrogant to call the moms who’s doing BLW ‘lazy’. Babies can gag and vomit when the puree is too thick, it’s all part of the learning process before they can properly chew and swallow. You are entitled to your own opinion but maybe do more research before writing an article like this and misleading more moms who’s looking for helpful information about feeding their infants.

  13. Elle says:

    So glad other mothers/caretakers are assessing the risk and danger of BLW. For a split second I thought I was the only one who wasn’t in agreement. A friend of mine swears by this method, as I watch her 6 month old baby choke on half of an everything bagel on my Facebook timeline. Warned her of the danger of choking and she unfriended me lol. Get enlightened people! This is a stupid and ineffective thing to be doing!

  14. Samantha says:

    Couldn’t agree more. A lot of people like to jump onto the bandwagon of the latest trend without researching for themselves. Like you say, BLW developed by a health visitor, not based on any conclusive research and only developed in 2005! Not something I’d want to base my baby’s feeding on, especially when there seems to be no focus on nutrient-density, which is particularly important at this young age. I think I red that pasta and pizza are suggested!

  15. Sarah says:

    Personally I’m doing both. BLW and traditional. When we eat veggies….such as canned no salt added veggies like peas, whole carrots, I let me baby have some he gets pureed food too the soft veggies are for practice picking up and feeding himself h is also breastfed on demand.

  16. Avery says:

    I personally believe BLW Is a way for women with disordered eating to turn their obsession with the food they eat into an obsession with the food their children eat. Almost every mom that I know who does it can recite the various foods their kids have eaten like it’s going to earn them a medal…it’s an outlet for anxiety, which is why it has become so popular with modern mothers.

  17. Sabine Strutz says:

    I believe BLW is a dangerous feeding technique because it leads to the false confidence in parents to feed their children everything beyond their age/teeth. And we sometimes look away or aren’t focused enough as we would be by sitting and feeding mash food…
    This feeding method is dangerous!
    Our 14 months old son choked on food and then passed away 2 years ago. He started with solids through the BLW method at age 6 months…

  18. Sara says:

    I can’t understand the desire for “Baby Led Weaning”. It’s a baby. Babies should not and do not have the same expectations as adults when it comes to pooping/peeing, walking/running, nutritional requirements, and especially not the same level of comprehension. I expect my baby to grow and learn appropriate to his age, not pushing him to eat like an adult. It IS dangerous, because babies can and will gnaw off large pieces with their gums or constant movement on a piece of food… and then that large piece becomes a huge choking hazard. I don’t care that my baby can’t hold a piece of vegetable or fruit. I will smash the steamed pieces anyway, and he’ll scoop them up with his hands. Fine by me. I don’t understand why the necessity for a baby to hold the vegetable. You’d rather your baby have it easy, over being safe? And why has gagging become acceptable at meal times? Do adults enjoy gagging? How could any parent watch their child gag, and HOPE or BELIEVE it’s not choking? How can you watch your child be uncomfortable or scared and just “have confidence in him”? That is cruel, and abandoning a baby who relies on his parents to keep him safe, happy, and comfortable. Meal times are enjoyable at our home, not a bite your fingernails/sit at the edge of your seat, stress. For what? I was puree fed and ate everything growing up. Same with my husband, and everyone I know. And so what if a toddler is picky? He deserves to have likes and dislikes, and just as I wouldn’t expect my 1 year old to know how to use the bathroom, I would not expect him to enjoy all foods. It’s not a big deal if a child is picky. We all have preferences with many areas of life. Safety is #1, and I’d never sacrifice safety for my child to have a larger food palate, or whatever BLW thinks is great. My son has eaten finger foods, but we mash it or cut it up appropriate to what’s safe for his age. And we’ve never experienced a gag or pushing food away or closing his mouth. He eats everything happily, with a big grin on his face, vocal pleasure, and is actually able to CONSUME the food and absorb the nutrition, rather than just playing with the food or gagging on it.

  19. Deon says:

    All I have to say about this matter is that one mother recently told me that she did this method because she had multiple kids and it was too much work to spoon feed them…she didn’t have time to do that with the others…so she let them feed themselves with this method. That confirmed the terror for this method for me…when doing BLW, you should be watching like a hawk. It shouldn’t be a method so you don’t have to pay attention to your kid. Anyway, there is no possible way that purées hold the same risk of choking. Go talk to a speech therapist who takes care of patients with swallowing problems… It is an unnecessary risk for minimal reward.

  20. Ashley says:

    I appreciate this blog post. I did blw with my first baby and we were on edge every time we fed her. Now with my second child I started solids the same way but thought to myself “if my mommy instincts are telling me this is not right, reassess”. And I did. I shouldn’t have to hate dinner time every night because I’m stressed about my kid choking on a chunk of food. So much so that sometimes I wouldn’t make him anything one night if I was already stressed from my day, This blog post gave me the confidence to move forward with purées.

  21. YJK says:

    My wife and I are both pediatricians and we’re doing baby led weaning. I agree there are dangerous foods that should be avoided but meat on large bones is not one of them. If the food is too big, the baby can’t get it into their mouth so can’t choke on it..

    The approach has to. be taken with caution and care, but it can certainly be done safely.

  22. Mick says:

    Well, I can say the writer and many commenter on here did not do enough research. And honestly. I can’t tell what that is in the picture but you can cook some meats tender enough that they are safe to eat. To each its own, if you want to feed puree to your Littles until they are one that’s your decision. All kids develop differently but are dependent on us teaching them those things. Some kids get it sooner than others. But don’t act like it’s so dangerous and deadly because it’s been proven its not.

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