So, your baby is ready to start solids, how exciting! Deciding what approach to take, especially for any first-time mum, can feel a little daunting and confusing, and leave you wondering if there is a right or wrong way?
Whilst there may be a right way to do each method correctly, the good news is, no matter how you choose to feed your baby – or in fact, how your baby chooses to feed – it will be the right way for your family.
There are pros and cons to each method, but what’s more important than the approach you take, is the energy you bring to make mealtimes enjoyable for your baby. If we feel anxious and stressed about mealtimes, our babies will pick up on this and begin to develop and associate these feelings with eating. As long as you follow each method safely and mindfully, the starting solids experience is sure to be a positive one for both of you.
Spoon-feeding is considered the traditional method of feeding and involves baby being fed puréed food by spoon. If you’re someone who feels anxious about offering your baby finger foods, then this can be a great way to start feeding your baby solids. Spoon feeding is often less messy – although I do encourage you to embrace the mess, no matter the method. It can also be more time consuming, preparing separate pureed foods
It’s important to be mindful of teaching your baby to self-regulate their appetite when spoon feeding.
- Avoid encouraging them to eat all the food you have prepared or “have one more mouthful”, as tempting as it may be. Babies have an innate ability to regulate their own appetites, and this language discourages that. Let your baby dictate the pace, how much food and when they’ve had enough by watching for their fullness cues.
- Exploring and playing with food is all part of the learning experience so try loading a spoon with purée and letting your baby take it to their mouth, or put some puree on their tray or plate so they can play with it.
So that your baby can develop their oral motor skills, learn to chew and experience different textures, I would encourage you to introduce some finger foods by around 9 months
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)
Baby led weaning is when baby is offered finger foods and allowed to feed themselves, skipping the puree feeding process altogether. This was the approach I followed with my son and one that has a number of advantages, although it can be messier, so be prepared for food to go all over the place – nothing an easy-to-clean highchair and floor mat can’t fix.
- It can help broaden baby’s palette as they experience a variety of different flavours and textures. Puréed foods are always the same texture, often a mixture of foods and sweetened with fruit, whereas with finger foods baby will generally be eating one food at a time, and can help them develop in to a more adventurous eater
- BLW helps foster the Division of Responsibility and appetite self-regulation. In a nutshell, this means we decide what food they eat and when, and they decide how much they eat… its baby led, not parent led.
- It can help develop fine motor control as they practise using their pincer grip.
- This weaning style helps baby develop their oral motor skills and gag reflex as they learn how much, and how far back, they can put food in their mouth.
- It can make mealtimes easier as baby eats the same food as you (with some modifications) so there’s no need to prepare separate meals.
BLW foods should be a similar shape and size to your own finger. This shape will allow baby to grasp it with the palm of the hand and bite it. The texture of the food should pass the squish test if gently pressed between your finger and thumb – like if your baby was to press it against the roof of their mouth with their tongue. Smaller foods can be cut in to pieces, once baby has developed their pincer grip.
Most parents biggest fear around the BLW approach is the risk of their baby choking. However, studies have shown that when finger foods are offered to baby in a safe and appropriate way, there is no increase in the incidences of choking for BLW v spoon feeding.
Gagging is a normal physiological reflex that is loud and dramatic and choking is silent and life threatening. I would highly recommend undertaking a children’s first aid course for any first-time parent, especially to gain confidence around mealtimes and make them feel more relaxed
Combination feeding is a mix of both spoon-feeding and BLW, the best of both worlds if you like. This can be a great approach for some families to help alleviate any anxiety around finger foods.
Offer finger foods, either before or alongside the purée – when your baby is hungry and interested in engaging with food – not after the purée as your baby is likely to be full and more inclined to just play with the finger food than eat it. Over time, you can gradually reduce the amount of purée offered, until they are only eating finger foods.
About the author
Lucy Stewart is an Accredited Paediatric Nutritionist, mum and step-mum. With many years of clinical experience working with a range of childhood conditions, Lucy is passionate about helping parents raise happy, resilient and thriving children, by feeding them right, right from the start.
Lucy is also the founder of Well Fed Kitchen, a Noosa based kids snack company. The Well Fed Kitchen is a range of nourishing and convenient kids snacks, designed to fill tummies, satiate hunger, provide a steady release of energy and a few extra essential growing nutrients, all made using quality and organic ingredients with no refined sugars. They are also nut-free recipes, making them great for school lunchboxes.
If you’re wondering how Lucy can support your little one on their journey to better health, you can book in for a FREE Discovery Call with Lucy here.