Baby-led weaning makes little nutritional difference vs spoon-feeding

Baby-led weaning makes little nutritional difference vs spoon-feeding

Baby-led weaning makes little nutritional difference vs spoon-feeding

Baby-led weaning can be a messy business

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Babies who hand-feed themselves solid food appear to consume the same number of calories as those given puréed food from a spoon, suggesting that such “baby-led weaning” might offer no particular nutritional benefits or drawbacks.

Despite its growing popularity, there is very little scientific understanding about baby-led weaning, says Kinzie Matzeller at the University of Colorado. To learn more, she and her colleagues asked the parents of 100 healthy, five-month-old babies living in the Denver, Colorado, area to report their babies’ food and milk intake for three days, as well as weighing the food on the plate before and after meals so they could determine how much the baby had consumed.

The parents provided these food intake reports again when the babies were nine and 12 months old. Matzeller’s team weighed and measured the babies at each of these points in time.

Using the diet records, the researchers identified 35 infants who were on a baby-led weaning system, which they defined as one in which puréed food provided less than 10 per cent of their total calories. To compare groups, the team then selected 35 conventionally fed babies that matched those in the baby-led weaning group in terms of race, sex and whether they were breastfed or given formula. Matzeller presented her findings in Chicago, Illinois, on 30 June at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

The researchers found no significant differences in daily energy intake – as defined by the number of calories consumed per kilogram of the baby’s body weight – at any point between the groups. The baby-led weaning infants were consuming about 22 per cent more protein than the other babies at the nine-month mark, but this evened back out by 12 months.

At nine and 12 months, the baby-led weaning infants had gained more weight with respect to their age and their height, although the differences were relatively minor.

“Anecdotally, if you gave me two growth charts of a baby-weaned versus conventionally weaned infant, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you which one is which,” says Matzeller. “And even looking at the babies, they’re pretty similar.”

One key difference is that baby-led weaning was much more common among mothers who had gone to college and had higher annual family incomes, suggesting there may be a slight middle-class bias – possibly because these parents can afford the time and expense that baby-fed weaning often requires, says Matzeller.

The findings appear to contradict studies in the UK showing reduced energy intake in baby-led weaning and increased weight gain in purée-fed babies who also consumed formula, although exactly why is unclear.

“We need more research into baby-led weaning to see if the approach leads to positive health outcomes in babies who follow this style of complementary feeding, and to understand if these outcomes are really down to baby-led weaning or the socioeconomic status of parents who are more likely to follow this style of weaning,” says Jo Pearce at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.

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