When it comes to avoiding picky eating and mealtime tantrums; parents are usually ready to try any method that promises their child will become a better and less fussy. This is in part why methods of giving solid food to infants have received a lot of attention in the last few years. Some think that the way babies are to solids can change their attitudes to food into childhood or even for life.
The most common method used to give babies their first solids has long to offer a puree or mash using a spoon. This helps parents make sure their babies receive adequate energy; nutrients for their development something many are often anxious over. More recently, however, baby-led weaning has gained popularity and divided parents. This method sees babies selecting finger foods such as carrot sticks, broccoli trees or other pieces of the whole, baby-fist size pieces of food and feed themselves.
The baby’s dexterity and confidence
While there have unsubstantiated claims that this method can improve a baby’s dexterity and confidence; research has baby-led weaning with their ability to recognize when they are full and less fussy with their food. This makes it an appealing choice for some parents. However, as with most things baby-related, the reality is that many parents don’t use just one method of feeding.
It changes depending on the time, day or situation they are in. Which is why, for our recently study, they wanted to compare how different styles of feeding; affects a baby’s eating habits and attitudes to food. They looked at four different categories of toddlers, whose parents introduced them to solids using either: solely baby-led weaning; mostly baby-led weaning with occasional spoon feeding; mostly spoon feeding with occasional finger foods, or just spoon feeding.
The researcher asked the parents questions about their feeding strategies and eating behaviors of their toddlers, like fussiness and food enjoyment. Usually, in statistical analysis, they look at whether there is a difference between groups. But what this does not tell us is how big the difference actually is. To solve this problem, they looked at the size of the difference between the groups. It helps us understand whether the difference actually matters.
Make eating decisions
When looking at the strategies parents use to feed their children; their study did show that those who follow baby-led weaning are less likely to use food as a reward or encouragement; have less control on eating overall. This helps their toddlers learn to make eating decisions for themselves based on whether they are hungry or full. These parents are also more likely to breastfeed for longer, introduce solids after six months and eat more frequently with their toddlers.
However, the key difference here is not that the children were fed using baby-led weaning but instead the type of families who usually follow it. Our findings show that these parents are usually of higher socioeconomic status and more educated; which makes them more likely to follow a distinctly different parenting style and able to afford to spend more time and money doing so.
Children eat depend on factors
Overall, our results suggest that the way a baby is introduced to solids will make very little difference to how fussy they will become; or how much they will enjoy the food. It is important to remember that how children eat depend on a lot of factors; including their genetic background, their past experiences with food and their interaction with their parents. Research findings are important when communicating complementary feeding advice to new parents, but headlines and study results can often be misleading.
So remember that when reports of researchers say there is a difference between one method over another, it’s not the whole story. The size of this difference something that is not often communicated matters too. The most important thing that parents can do is to try their best and introduce solids in a way that is more appropriate for their family, rather than stressing about a specific method; as research suggests might make an only a very small difference.