Spoon-fed vs baby-led weaning
There are many schools of thought when it comes to weaning, but the two most obvious camps are spoon-feeding vs baby-led weaning, both of which have their advantages.
Puréed or well-mashed food is an obvious bridge between liquid and solid foods. It’s also easy for you to see how much your baby is eating if you spoon-feed him, and you have greater control over what and how much (without force-feeding) your baby has at every meal. By six months, babies can take food off a spoon using their upper lip, rather than sucking the food off. By eight months, babies can chew and swallow foods with lumps, so it makes sense to adjust the consistency of their food as they develop.
Baby-led weaning (BLW), on the other hand, means forgetting purées and weaning spoons, and simply letting your baby feed himself.
Many parents follow BLW without even thinking about it. This is particularly the case with second or later children. Babies love to copy their older siblings – they often try to grab food from other children’s plates, happy to feed themselves just like their big brother or sister does. With BLW you need to be able to offer your baby a selection of nutritious finger foods suitable for his age. The easiest finger foods for babies are those that are cut into batons, or have a natural handle, such as cooked broccoli spears. This is because when your baby first tries solids, he won’t yet have developed a pincer grip. The pincer grip enables him to pick up food between his thumb and forefinger. He will start to develop this skill over the next few months, but to begin with he can only clasp foods in his fists. He may grab pieces of food with his fist and start to suck on them, but you might find he is more likely just to play with them.
BLW gives babies the chance to explore foods for themselves, which means they can cope with different food textures from the beginning of weaning. Parents who have tried BLW are generally passionate about its benefits. They say their babies will eat anything and everything, which helps to take the worry out of starting solids. But although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence about BLW, not much formal research has been done.
However, one study did find that babies who are allowed to feed themselves from the beginning of weaning are more likely to join in with family mealtimes and eat a wide range of family foods early on. Another study found that BLW encourages babies to choose healthier foods, which could protect against obesity in childhood.
However, there are disadvantages, the most important of which is that BLW is unlikely to provide good nutrition as the process is very messy, and there is a lot of waste. If most of your baby’s food ends up on the floor, there will be a limit to the number of nutrients he can get from his food.
Babies may find it hard to chew on some finger foods, such as well-cooked meat, which is a good source of iron – something that your baby needs to obtain from food from the age of six months. A spoon-fed baby would receive this in the form of palatable puréed meat, but a BLW runs the risk of missing out on this valuable source or iron.
The official advice is to give your baby well-mashed or puréed foods at the beginning of weaning, as well as finger food. The Department of Health, the European Union, and the World Health Organisation all recommend this.
I personally think it’s important to give your baby a variety of textures, which includes sloppy foods as well as finger foods, so they receive the correct nutrition but also experience a wide range of textures and tastes.
Dr Sarah Schenker http://www.sarahschenker.com