Baby knows best! Study shows baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences.

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With traditional spoon feeding what usually
happens is that an infant is presented with
some kind of puree or mush on a spoon, by
the parent, and it’s a case of trying to get,
as every, many mothers know, the spoon into
the child’s mouth.
With baby led weaning the control is handed
over to the child. So you present them with
a range of foods, usually finger foods, from
six months old and the child can pick up the
food freely and feed themselves.
Indeed, some mums actually offer the child
being baby led a spoon, which is preloaded,
and they can operate the spoon themselves.
The study came from our main questions: how
does this type of weaning or how does this
style of weaning impact on health outcomes
and food preferences because there was an
evidence gap there. We simply don’t know.
There’s a lot of talk by mums on the internet
and you know at playgroup, some coffee mornings
about how it works and so on, but the real
evidence is lacking so we wanted to find that evidence.
So we knew we wanted to do a comparison between
the two weaning groups, so then it was a matter
of recruiting participants and for many years
now at Nottingham I’ve been running the Nottingham
Toddler Lab, and so we have a database of
local families that have signed up to take
part in the kind of work that I do and others
in the department.
So we recruited quite a lot of parents from
that, from that database, and gave them a
questionnaire, but we also recruited additional
participants from a website forum that Ellen
was aware of, and we ended up with a sample
of 155 participants that we were then able
to classify as either traditional spoon fed
weaning or baby led weaning.
We asked them about what they’d actually done
with the weaning process. We asked them questions
about things like whether the baby had been
breast fed, breastfeeding duration, and we
also asked them about the child’s height and
weight so that we could calculate their body
mass index, which is an indication of their
weight relative to their height, and their
age and their gender.
I think there are two key findings really,
the first is that the baby led weaning group
showed an increased liking for carbohydrates
over the spoon fed group, and that was a very
strong finding that was statistically significant
and it was also their preferred food group.
Out of all the food groups carbohydrates were
the, was the group that the baby led weaning
children liked the most. That’s in quite stark
contrast to the spoon fed group who liked
sweet things the most.
The second finding of note is that the baby
led weaning children were more likely to have
a body mass index that was in the healthy
range as compared to the spoon fed children
who had higher body mass index overall.
Obviously with any work like this it’s really
important to take into account socioeconomic
status because socioeconomic status is related
to a lot of developmental and health outcomes,
but we took that into account right at the
beginning when we collected our data. We asked
parents about, questions about, their socioeconomic
status. That enabled us to statistically control
for that when we were analysing our results.
And fortunately what we found was that socioeconomic
status didn’t affect the pattern of results
that we found, except for one food group which
was vegetables, and there, there was a general
effect of socioeconomic status. It didn’t
differentiate the two weaning groups, so it
was a similar pattern for both the baby led
weaning group and also the spoon fed weaning
group, but socioeconomic status was associated
with liking of vegetables such that, the higher
the socioeconomic status, the higher the liking
of vegetables.
It’s tremendous fun, it’s incredibly messy,
but we’ve, we know we have family meals with
our two children now and Lara is just a, just
nearly nine months and whilst it’s incredibly
messy it’s just, it’s delightful, it’s really
good fun, and I think it has had a good impact
on increasing our five a day levels as we
definitely eat more fruit and vegetables.
Some health visitors have concerns about children
choking when they’re using more solid foods
rather than the pureed foods, but that wasn’t
something that came up particularly strongly
in our results either. So, those concerns
that people have had that perhaps have made
parents perhaps choose the alternative form
of weaning, are perhaps dealt with in our
paper and can be used to better advise parents,
to give them a more complete picture when
they’re deciding which weaning style to use
with their children.
We’re absolutely delighted that the paper’s
being published in BMJ Open. We think that
will mean it has a good impact for academics,
health practitioners and so on. It’s an open
access journal that means anybody can read
it who has internet access, anywhere around
the world. We see this very much as a stepping
off point. We do need some large prospective
studies to track children over time to see
what happens with their food preferences,
to see what happens with their, you know,
health outcomes and so on. So we see this
very much as the start of the ball rolling
in this area of research.

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