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Parenting: newborns to toddlers

The Hong Kong babies feeding themselves solid food instead of being spoon-fed puree, and how it benefits their health and growth

Baby-led weaning not only sets up healthy eating habits, good coordination and independence, but also frees parents from the often frustrating task of spoon-feeding, says Hong Kong mother Fion Yim

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 10:17am

Rows of babies in high chairs calmly grab and chew on chicken wings, corn cobs, broccoli and burger patties. It’s an unusual lunchtime scene for such young eaters but at a parenting centre in Lai Chi Kok, Fion Yim has organised a gathering to promote “baby-led weaning”.

Yim aims to spread the message that this is a healthier alternative to spoon-feeding babies with puréed food. It is also an antidote to “helicopter parenting”, Yim says, because it encourages babies to explore by themselves the tastes, textures and colours of different foods.

The practice is promoted by the UN and various health groups, who say it sets the stage for healthy eating, helps babies improve eye-hand coordination, and frees parents from the task of spoon-feeding.

Research conducted at Swansea University in Britain found that babies who eat puréed foods such as mashed-up fruit and vegetables are more prone to obesity, compared with those who eat regular meals with their own hands. The study followed 423 infants aged from six to 12 months in two groups – spoon fed and baby-led weaners – and again aged 18 to 24 months, and compared data.

Babies are able to feed themselves solid foods once they reach six months, say proponents of baby-led weaning.

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Yim says she found out about baby-led weaning by accident about six months ago, on the internet.

“I thought, my son loves to put things in his month, so why don’t I encourage him to eat by himself,” says Yim, whose son is now a year old. “So I stopped spoon-feeding him and started baby-led weaning.”

She only set up a Chinese-language Facebook page – lovebabyloveBLW – in mid-September, a week before the get-together, to share photos of babies eating and encourage more mothers to give the solid food alternative a try. Local mothers quickly found the page and 17 babies lined up for lunch in Lai Chi Kok.

Olivia Chung’s daughter, Karissa Lam, is now 11 months old. She started feeding herself five months ago, when her digestive system could take solid foods and her neck was strong enough for her to sit upright for more than an hour.

“She loves eating now,” says Chung, another of the mothers at the gathering. “Before, when she was spoon-fed, I had to chase after her.”

Babies don’t always take to feeding themselves at first. Chan Man-yee, a paediatric nurse with a young daughter, says it was initially frustrating. “We kept persevering and things got a lot better after two weeks. My daughter won’t accept spoon-feeding any more.”

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Her daughter loves the chance to grab and put food in her mouth, Chan says. “You can tell kids are not happy when they are sitting there being spoon-fed, hands down and eyes on the ‘electric dummy’ – the television,” she says.

For exhausted parents, it’s also time to enjoy a break.

Yim plans to continue spreading the word.

“We are just starting and will host more events. We hope to connect with more parents who really want to help their children to grow up in a self-determined way. Then, children will have a sense that they have control over their own lives and love their lives,” she says.