Should we spoonfeed babies? New study sheds light on childhood obesity

Swansea University researchers have found that babies who are allowed to feed themselves during weaning are less likely to overeat or be overweight as toddlers than babies who are weaned by being spoon-fed.

The aim of this study, by Dr Amy Brown and Michelle Lee from the University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, and published by the Pediatric Obesity journal, was to compare weight and eating style of children weaned using a baby-led approach with those using a traditional spoon-feeding style. 

Baby-led weaning allows infants to feed themselves family foods from the start of weaning. Instead of the parent spoon feeding the baby pureed foods, baby-led babies are offere‌d a range of whole foods which they pick up and eat themselves.

Baby feeding research This two stage study looked at a sample of 298 babies. The first phase studied babies and how they were introduced to solid foods between the ages of 6 and 12 months while phase two studied the weight and eating behaviour of the same infants between 18 and 24 months.

The study results revealed that those infants weaned using a baby-led approach had a better ability to stop eating when full, were less likely to overeat and were less likely to be ‘fussy’ eaters than those who had been weaned using spoon feeding. Baby-led babies were also less likely to be overweight than their spoon-fed peers.

These results were independent of other factors such as mother's background, birth weight, weaning age and breastfeeding.

The study concluded that baby-led weaning is associated with better appetite control and reduced risk of being overweight. This may be explained by the baby being allowed to handle foods, control their intake and eat at their own pace, alongside being exposed to a wider variety of tastes. All of this may promote appetite regulation and healthy weight gain trajectories.

Dr Amy Brown, one of the researchers on the project, said:

“The study indicates that taking a baby-led approach to weaning may reduce a baby’s risk of being overweight as they are in control of their food intake. This results in the baby being better able to control his or her appetite which could have a long-term impact upon weight gain and eating style that may continue into childhood.  

Childhood obesity remains a concern in the UK and has many negative health and social implications. While there are many factors that contribute to this, there is increasing recognition of the role of feeding style during infancy upon how a child’s appetite and eating style develops.

Responsive feeding, which means allowing the child to regulate their own appetite and not pressurising them to eat more than they need, is a really important step in encouraging children to develop healthy eating patterns for life.”

Read the research paper