That was the word out of U.K.-based Nottingham University in February, where researchers Ellen Townsend and Nicola J. Pitchford analyzed questionnaires completed by the parents of 155 children between the ages of 20 months and 6 1/2 years. They found that babies weaned from milk through the use of spoon-fed purees had higher rates of obesity.
The weaning approach that leads to babies regulating their own food intake is a rapidly growing trend called baby-led weaning, a practice in which parents put a variety of “adult” fare like pasta, broccoli or croissants in front of their six-month-olds and let them pick up the food and feed themselves. The babies determine what they eat, how much they eat, and parents get out of the way.
In their study, Townsend and Pitchford say that baby-led weaning “promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood,” and leads to a lower body-mass index.
And, according to Gill Rapley, the British public health nurse who coined the term and co-authored Baby-Led Weaning, even before the Nottingham study, the Internet had contributed to baby-led weaning’s recent popularity.
“Parents have been quicker to embrace it than health professionals,” Rapley says. “And, of course, there are lots of parents who were doing it anyway, but without giving it a name.”
Rapley says that the future of weaning includes fewer spoons.
“Spoon-feeding as the normal way to introduce solids will become a thing of the past, probably within the next 10 years,” she says. “There is no research that shows any benefits of or need for it. It’s simply left over from when it was believed babies needed solid foods much earlier than we now know they do.”
She adds that spoon-feeding likely won’t go away completely, with some special needs children still requiring assistance from parents. And some parents, Rapley points out, will prefer to remain in control of the amount their children eat. But they will be in the minority.
“Both parents and professionals are realizing that, at six months, babies are ready to start feeding themselves,” Rapley says.
And with babies feeding themselves, parents can remain focused on the truly enjoyable aspects of mealtime – cleaning up the food-splattered floor and walls.