Before we get into using BLW let’s quickly explore the “traditional method” of transitioning to solids and the usual recommendation that’s given to parents of babies with special needs.
Helping a baby with special needs and developmental delay transition to solids- the “usual” recommendations:
Babies should demonstrate "signs of readiness" (precursor skills) that let you know they are ready to transition to solids.
Nearly all babies will show these signs by 6-7 months.
Babies who have special needs (developmental delays, medical complexities which disrupt development, etc.) may not show readiness signs until well after 6-7 months.
Start slow using purées and avoid challenging foods.
These recommendations causes baby to miss 2 critical windows and lose valuable time needed for exposure and practice.
For most infants, we believe that the cost of NOT introducing tastes and textures outweighs the benefits (if any) of waiting until the classic readiness signs appear after 6-7 months.
Helping a baby with special needs and developmental delay transition to solids- the Feeders & Growers recommendations:
To be more clear- we strongly recommend that most infants begin the transition to solid even if they are NOT showing traditional readiness signs, by 7 months, though we strongly recommend families do so with the support of a feeding specialist who can give individualized modifications tailored to the strengths and needs of their baby.
We also want to be clear here: when we say “developmental delay,” “special needs,” “medical complexity” these terms capture a HUGE swath of infants along a spectrum of needs from mild delays to significant needs, differences and delays. The more delayed your baby is, the more risk there may be in starting solids and learning to chew so the more we encourage you to do so with the help of a feeding specialist (an Occupational Therapist or a Speech Pathologist who specializes in eating and swallowing). We want to acknowledge that there will always be some babies who’s medical needs and neuromuscular differences make transitioning to solids at 6-7 months ( especially using BLW) too risky. We need to be clear though that we believe (and have seen it to be true) that many many babies with special needs and developmental delays can and should start solids by around 6-7 months with adaptations and they can and should be allowed to self-feed using BLW principles. We feel this is important to put out there because so many feeding therapists, pediatricians, specialty doctors, nurses, etc. tell families the opposite of this- that their special needs baby cannot start solids yet and cannot try BLW and we know that’s just flat out wrong for so many babies with special needs.
How do I support my baby with special needs and developmental delays with doing Baby-Led Weaning?
So if you're going to offer solids to a baby who does not yet show readiness signs, you'll need to modify the activity to bridge the gap between the skills that baby currently has, and those needed for exploring, tasting, eating solid foods.
This should be done on an individualized basis, tailored to the needs of your baby, with the help of a feeding specialist, but these are possible options:
✔️Support for head, neck, trunk control.
✔️Specialized support to reach for, grab, hold, and transfer food to the mouth.
✔️Thoughtfully selected timing to maximize energy, attention, and engagement.
✔️Carefully selected food choices to target certain skills and reduce choking risk.
✔️Use of warm-up activities to prepare the infant for the activity and maximize learning and success.
⠀ ✔️ Modified utensil choices.
✔️ Extra attention to weight gain and nutritional intake.
We know each of these could use its own post- they’re coming so subscribe below to stay up to date on our latest posts, or if you’re a therapist wanting more information, sign up here to take our BLW with infants with special needs course to learn how to support families on this exciting journey!