Self-feeding, Spoon-feeding and obesity

By Alix O'Hara, Mashblox

There's lately been a flurry of articles about the much awaited Bliss Study, published October last year. (Just Google "Baby led weaning and obesity" and you'll see what I mean). BLW is all about food as a learning exercise, the exploration of texture and sensation. The baby’s gag reflex is trusted to make sure they’re not swallowing stuff whole, and some start with quite hard foods quite young. Others smoosh around soft stuff, or anything in between. “Self-feeding” means just that. Your bub does the job however suits them, which may or may not include mushing it about. Baby Led Weaning could probably be described as a type of self feeding.

Parents go this way because it’s more natural, easier to feed what they’re eating, because it sets them up for a healthier relationship with food, or because their 5 or so month old grabbed for a carrot one day and managed to gum it up and eat it.

The University of Otago New Zealand, were studying the benefits of self-feeding to overweight and obesity. They were using a Baby Led Weaning method modified for choking risk, and as the first randomised clinical trial of this growing trend it was a significant paper.

Parents of fussy eaters would be delighted at their discovery of reduced fussiness, with no significant choking incidents (participants had support), and no reported growth faltering. But sadly they found no improvement to overweight compared to spoon fed groups.

This made headlines around the world as everyone rushed to dismiss the practice as being helpful to one of the world’s paramount health concerns which is now affecting infants, as well as children and every other age group. Less and less of them are losing their baby fat as they grow up. 

But I think the reports missed something important:

We don’t actually know what these kids ate: the full paper doesn’t say. We can maybe assume that it was a lot of bread and pasta because these are easier to grab and were reported as a favourite in one of the earlier studies on the subject from Nottingham University, 2012. But we all know that bread makes you fat. 

Meanwhile purees are mostly sweetened – this is a new thing, but it kinda makes sense: who wants a savoury milkshake or slurpy? But fruit based or no, this often makes them higher calorie and not necessarily low GI.

So what does this mean?

Babies need a small glossary of crucial vitamins for healthy development, including iron, protein, Vitamin A, C & D and fats, but few of these are found in the most accessible, grabbable, marketed foods unless they’ve been artificially added there. And if you go by what’s on the shelves: much of the rest of their standard diet is encouraging them to be just as overweight as our adult statistics: if not more so.

What’s more is if they’re being spoon fed every meal, there’s a risk that they’re getting used to eating to your appetite, rather than theirs. This comes into play as they grow up and keep eating past their needs, and is why breast feeding shows reduced obesity in later life compared to bottle feeding: Bub gets used to deciding when they stop.

As for reduced fussiness with self-feeding: at two feet high they can’t control a lot about their world. Friends, activities, clothes, bed time, and meal times are all largely chosen for them: being “fussy” about what they’ll accept in their mouth can be a very important step toward independence! But if they’ve always fed themselves, then there’s really no need to put a foot down.

The study concludes that more research is needed: preferably with non-modified BLW. This again begs the question what the modifications were, but it’s got to say something that these same highly decorated academics each appear on at least three significant papers on the subject.
So if your bub wants to self-feed: let them! This is fantastic news! They’ll grow up with a better attitude to food, mindful eating habits, less fussiness, and who knows what other benefits… All they need is the support to do so.

This is where Mashblox come in. They’re fun, squishy and very tactile silicone self-feeding blocks for mushy foods, that can also have food baked or frozen inside, and turn inside out for easy cleaning. They’re brand new, but we’re already getting feedback on their benefits:
"She hates avocado, but when we hide it in Mashblox she'll eat it. When avocado is a medication for her low ketone epilepsy that's really important"
- Deeanna, Mum of Hayley, 3



Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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