These days many parents are giving their babies control of what they eat at an early age. Instead of preparing separate meals and pureed foods for every meal for their baby, parents are giving them solid table foods, a version of what everyone in the family may be eating for the meal. This method, termed ‘Baby Led Weaning (BLW)’ , is started while the baby is still taking breast milk or formula and so the foods they are eating are not the primary means of daily nutrition. As the baby is picking up solid foods and learning how to break them down in their mouths their fine motor, oral motor and sensory systems are developing. A win-win right?
Well…yes if the baby has typical oral motor skills. For babies that have oral motor deficiencies BLW methods could create a scary experience, not only a choking hazard but also the babies may be afraid they may not be able to manipulate the foods so they start to refuse the solid foods offered. However, there are also significant benefits of giving these babies control of what they are exploring with their mouths and eating. If they are handed a solid piece of food that they can mouth and explore without pressure, it can decrease the anxiety around it and therefore decrease the oral aversion. In addition, the skills that the baby learns through exploring table foods with their fingers and mouths also help them develop their oral and sensory motor skills at the same time they are working with you and a professional to strengthen their oral muscles. So we think one of the best ways to help in this case is to offer a ‘Modified Baby Led Weaning’ (MBLW) approach.
The key of when a baby may be ready for BLW is based on their motor development; are they able to sit upright with minimal support? Can the baby use their hands and independently put things in their mouths? Are they interested in table foods? Babies we see may have some of these ‘readiness’ milestones covered but not others. Maybe they have a motor delay and need external support to sit up. Or maybe they struggle with the ‘pincer’ grasp and have difficulty picking up the smaller pieces of food. So with MBLW we offer structural supports and specific feeding tools and techniques to allow these babies to safely and happily feed themselves. These strategies are called ‘bridge devices’, maybe a modified spoon that is easy to handle that you can ‘load’ with a mashed solid. Or a mesh feeder with solid chunks inside so the baby can munch on the food but not be worried pieces will come into their mouth and be hard to handle for swallowing. Slowly these bridge devices are removed once the toddler becomes able to safely manage these foods on their own.
Is your child struggling with transitioning to solid foods? If so contact our office and let one of our experienced feeding therapist help you and your child navigate this exciting stage!