There has been quite a buzz surrounding Baby Led Weaning recently. Have you heard of it yet? It’s a baby feeding concept that ditches purées for soft finger foods that the babe self-feeds. There are several reasons why moving right onto actual solids may be a healthy choice, but I think there is another option that also ought to be considered & associated with extra health benefits too!
I’m talking about Premastication (or pre-chewing). Get your primal pants on for this one, because pre-chewing is sure to stir up scowls & gasps from onlookers, and may seem a little rough around the edges to many clean-cut Westerners. But health is health, & when it comes to parenting and caring for our beloved young, sometimes you gotta just let the haters hate & go cave-man on them.
PREMASTICATION (PRE-CHEWED FOODS)
Premasticated foods can be delivered via “kiss-feeding” (mouth-to-mouth), or the more “civilized” approach of removing chewed food from the caregiver’s mouth and using fingers or a spoon to transport it into the child’s.
The Benefits of Premastication:
- Mama Bear’s saliva offers an extra dose of digestive enzymes (salivary amylase for processing starches and lingual lipase to break down fats) which begin processing the food before it even reaches Baby’s mouth.
- Exposure to rich microflora in parental saliva can prime the child’s immune system to resist infections. allergic reactions, and immunological hypersensitivity (such as asthma or eczema).
- Possible prevention of cavities. It was once believed that parental saliva in babies’ mouths led to tooth decay. These concerns have since been disproven; recent studies show that close contact with maternal saliva can actually aid infants in the prevention of dental carries, possibly due to “protective immune mechanisms.”
- Bond between mother and child. In humans, mouth-to-mouth gestures are generally saved for people we are close to, want to be close to, or people we are trying to revive; simply put, mouth-to-mouth contact is a special thing reserved for special people. This behavior between mother and child can become a very intimate and unique aspect of their relationship that builds trust and dependence.
- No utensils needed; all you have to lug around during feeding times is your baby!
The Downsides of Premastication:
- Possible transfer of disease through saliva. (Simple solution: if you aren’t healthy, don’t force bodily fluid on anyone.)
- Weird looks. Smmmuh.
- Sometimes I accidentally swallow the food I’m chewing for one of my daughters. Hah! Oops. Just being real.
I immediately was drawn to this style & totally support the natural benefits of a healthy parent and child swapping spit.
To me, there is a strong connection between breastfeeding and kiss-feeding/prechewing. In both instances, the developed health of a mother supports and strengthens her young. In both instances the mother physically gives of herself in some way. In both instances better digestion is enabled (through extra enzymes in both breast milk and saliva). I love prechewing for my little birdies!
Clementine has always been a good kiss-feedling, but Darla sometimes gets frustrated thinking I’m trying to smother her with affection rather than depositing nourishment, so when I prechew for her I end up mostly hand delivering the goods so she can see the food coming.
Thankfully, for the modern mamas that aren’t down with regurgitating, there can be health benefits of other feeding styles too…
SPOON FEEDING (PUREED FOODS)
The Benefits of Spoon Feeding:
- “Anything” can be consumed without risk of choking. Purées might go “down the wrong tube,” but they won’t get lodged in a baby’s throat or block airwaves.
- Purées can be made/stored in bulk. Puréed baby food freezes well and thus can be prepped and virtually “ready to go” for several months in advance.
- Incorporating friendly fats is easy to do when blending foods; just add in a chunk of grass-fed butter or coconut oil to the blender.
The Downsides of Spoon Feeding:
- Blended foods give children limited experience with textures and flavors, which is thought to lead to more picky eating later in life.
- Less nutritional value. Store-bought baby foods are often heavily diluted and processed at high temperatures, affecting much of the original nutrition. Homemade purées often require cooking foods (in some cases causing vitamin reduction) that might not necessary need to be heat processed if served as finger foods or prechewed (apples and carrots, for instance).
- Greater parental expectation on the baby to eat certain quantities of food as the feed is often pre-portioned and parent-led rather than child initiated.
- Spoons often bypass a baby’s gag reflex, inhibiting them from learning how to safely eat food on their own or sensing when they are done and to stop eating.
- High amounts of food prep involved compared to other feeding methods.
- Most expensive feeding method if purchasing baby food jars/pouches.
Though spoon-feeding/purées seems to come up heavy on the downsides, we haven’t totally done away with the spoons just yet.
Instead, we’ve become more strategic with the type of spoons we use and how they are offered. Some foods naturally need to be sipped or given by spoon no matter how old the consumer is, and I can’t neglect those foods just because we don’t like a certain kind of utensil.
Using one of these amazing soup spoons is a great way to keep things child-led while still being able to easily offer things like broth, homemade applesauce, or yogurt. I move the spoon up to Darla’s mouth, but she has to lean forward, grab it, and begin sipping to actually get food out.
BABY LED WEANING (PRE-CUT FOODS)
The Benefits of Baby Led Weaning:
- Babies have control over their food and learn how to grasp/handle it as well as use their mouth to break it down.
- Children become aware of their appetite and learn to recognize the difference between being hungry and full (helps with portion control and has been shown to lower problems with weight & obesity).
- Babies learn to identify and accept food textures/flavors which makes them more accepting of different food types in the future.
- Babies can participate in family meal times by eating some of the same foods and at the same time as everyone else.
- Minimal food prep is required from the caregiver.
- More digestive enzymes are transferred to the food when a child spends time gnawing/gumming it themselves than they would receive through purées, which are quickly passed through the mouth and swallowed.
The Downsides of Baby Led Weaning:
- It can be really, really messy.
- There is a potential choking hazard associated with “solids.” Even after using this feeding style frequently with both of our girls, I have only ever had one instance that I needed to intervene in. The reality is that babies’ gag reflexes are amazing and their bodies are innately good at getting food out that shouldn’t be there. If you hear coughing (and I literally have every single time except that once), it means their air flow is open and life is a-ok. Give them a second & they’ll likely spit the food out & put it right back in.
Both of my girls have always shown favor to finger foods & self-feeding over any other method.
They really enjoy exploring their food, and a Baby Led Weaning approach is a great way for them to do that.
WHAT OUR FAMILY DOES
Our family primarily does a mixture of precut & prechewed foods
… with premastication being especially favored when serving meat, white potatoes, or legumes for the extra enzyme boosts. We have decided to hold off on grains & gluten for quite a while, but when we first introduce them we prechew those starches as well to aid in digestion.
Ultimately I think what we feed our young is more important than how we do it, but preparation and serving methods truly ought to be considered for optimal nutritional health. Each method has its place, but in our home, purées and spoons are a rarity; self-fed babes and some good mouth-to-mouth definitely dominate the scene.