An interview with Leslie Schilling, MS, RDN, co-author of the new book Born to Eat: Whole healthy foods from baby's first bite
LS: This is a great time to find balance for the whole family. We recommend building a beginners plate with an iron-rich food, an energy dense food, and a food with vitamin C. The family can plan normal meals and simply modify the foods as needed for their infant.
ND: Choking is another big worry for parents. But you draw a distinction between gagging and choking—and say that gagging is actually part of the learning process. Can you explain a bit more about that?
LS: The gag reflex is a normal function of oral and feeding development. It helps baby protect himself from swallowing a food he’s not ready to eat or maneuver. As new parents, a gagging episode can be scary but we can carefully watch and let baby clear his mouth. Babies are at greater risk for choking when they are not in control of feeding (force feeding via spoon or putting food in baby’s mouth), eating certain raw fruits or veggies, coin-sized pieces of food, or when reclined (like in a car seat). For this reason, it’s recommended that all new parents learn first aid for choking which is often offered at your local hospital.
Getting Started with Baby-Led Weaning
ND: In the book, you include resources to help parents educate grandparents and other caregivers on the principles of baby-led weaning. Is this a major challenge for parents who choose this method of feeding?
LS: We don’t think it’s a major challenge for most parents but we all encounter people who don’t understand the process or who feel that a different way is better or safer (although no research supports that). As parents decide the method they’ll take for feeding their little one, they can ask for support from other caregivers as needed. We’ve provided some conversation starters that can make your desires clear and your child safe.
ND: At the other end of the spectrum, it seems there are some baby-led weaning groups and forums that can get pretty dogmatic and intense about what is and isn’t the “correct” way to do this. Tell us what you mean by the phrase “what you chew is up to you.”
LS: That’s one of my favorite phrases! Yes, there is a bit of black and white thinking even in feeding methods. We feel this is an easy and natural path for both parents and infants. The bottom line is that no matter how you decide to feed your child, you are the expert of your own home and family. We empower parents with evidenced-based information and they decide what’s right for them.
ND: How might baby-led weaning affect a child’s eating habits and attitudes later in life? How might it affect other members of the family, such as older siblings?
LS: Emerging research suggest the baby-led or self-feeding approach sets our children up for being very good at listening to their internal regulation system. They know when they’re hungry and they know when to stop eating. No external pressures are being added (i.e. “just a few more bites”). This supports a child’s own ability to trust himself with food and body for a lifetime. It is our hope this focus on individual body trust will permeate the whole family. It’s hard to create a self-regulating eater if the family isn’t on the journey with them. We provide tips to help the whole family break from our dieting culture by embracing their nutrition intuition and body trust.
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