After receiving expert, skilled support from IBCLCs around early infant feeding questions and concerns, many parents return with questions as the time for starting solid foods approaches. An increasing number of questions over the past decade have been about Baby-Led Weaning – is it safe? When can it begin? What are trusted resources for learning more? How should parents balance offering table foods and continuing to nurse/provide human milk?
Meghan McMillin holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and is both a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition (CSP), as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Meghan’s private practice focuses on prenatal, postpartum and infant care, and the introduction of solids, food allergies, and Baby-Led Weaning are among her specialties. Her webinar for ILCA, “Baby Led Weaning and the Role of the IBCLC” combines her expertise as a dietitian and her IBCLC experience to uniquely frame the research, practice, and guidelines around Baby-Led Weaning that IBCLCs need to know.
McMillan feels strongly that “IBCLCs need to be educated on the basics of Baby-Led Weaning. There are plenty of non-experts out there providing information, in social media groups, blogs, and peer-to-peer supports. We need to be the experts, making sure babies are fed safely.”
Here she shares a few key insights about about Baby-Led Weaning.
“Baby-Led Weaning” might be a confusing term for some
McMillin explains that in some English-speaking countries, including the United States, “weaning” refers to the end of breastfeeding or chestfeeding, and “baby-led” weaning to the act of letting a baby guide when to stop. However, in the United Kingdom, where the first book on Baby-Led Weaning was published, “weaning” refers to the introduction of solid or table foods – the beginning of complementary feeding, not the end of human milk feeding. And “baby-led” refers to the act of allowing the baby to feed themselves, “eating finger foods from the first bite.”
Baby-Led Weaning isn’t just about what babies eat, but how babies eat
McMillin defines the basic principles of Baby-Led Weaning as starting to offer solid foods at six months of age (as recommended by the World Health Organization); offering healthy foods; sharing meals together as a family; and finally, allowing babies to feed themselves (instead of being given pureed food on a spoon by an adult). She points out that as IBCLCs, we teach families to allow babies to lead feeding from birth. We teach feeding cues, encourage parents to feed on cue and discourage them from timing or scheduling feeds. The self-feeding, responsive mindset of Baby-Led Weaning is a natural extension of that approach. In fact, McMillin shares research showing that in a randomized trial, parents taught to use Baby-Led Weaning chestfed or breastfed for longer durations than those who were not.
Many parents have questions about how to use Baby-Led Weaning safely
Baby-Led Weaning emphasizes allowing infants to self-feed by giving them large, “grabbable” pieces of food versus spoon-fed purees. This often leads to questions and concerns about the potential for a baby to choke if they break off a piece of food that is too large for them to handle. McMillin explains that research shows “babies that followed the Baby-Led Weaning approach did not choke more often than those that followed the traditional approach.” She highlights that “any feeding method can result in choking when the proper precautions are not taken, and educating parents on this can help reduce the risk.”
Are you ready to provide the families you serve with the information they need? McMillin notes that many health care providers are unfamiliar with Baby-Led Weaning, and that many health governing bodies offer little guidance or official positions for providers to turn to. As IBCLCs, we are trusted infant feeding professionals and can offer parents education on understanding a baby’s readiness for solids, information on safety and choking precautions, counsel them on continuing to maintain nursing and milk supply, and have referrals and resources for issues outside our scope of practice. In “Baby Led Weaning and the Role of the IBCLC,” McMillan covers all those topics and more, including how to counsel parents about what to expect when beginning Baby-Led Weaning, ideas for combining conventional feeding with Baby-Led approaches, food preparation ideas, and the ideal first foods for infants being fed human milk.