It is that exciting time in your infant’s life where they are ready to begin solid foods, but where do you start? Traditionally, purees have been an infant’s first food; however, you may have heard about a more new approach called Baby-Led Weaning as an infant’s first way of trying solids. The decision to choose between these two methods may be confusing or leave you feeling uncertain. Unfortunately, there are many different messages and debates when it comes to these methods of starting solids. In this article, you will learn the benefits and challenges of each method.
Starting your infant off the traditional way of spoon-feeding smooth purees and moving on to thicker textures has been the most common way of introducing solid foods. It is essential to start your infant with fruits, vegetables, meats, and iron-fortified grains from the beginning. With this method, infants learn to eat solid foods through parents spoon feeding until they can communicate fullness. The goal is to work up to different textures; lumps, chunks, finger foods, and family foods. As an infant nears eight months, parents offer finger foods to replace spoon feeding eventually.
One of the most significant benefits of a spoon-fed approach is confidence in knowing that your infant has consumed the food you provided. Intake of iron, an essential mineral for cognitive development, is especially important early in the weaning process, and infants can attain iron easily through purees (1). Offering pureed iron-rich foods regularly can be helpful in knowing your infant is meeting nutritional requirements. Another benefit of this approach is mealtimes with spoon-feeding can be less messy, but preparing separate meals can be time-consuming. Spoon feeding may also reduce gagging with the gradual increase in texture; slowly increasing the consistency to a thicker texture can better meet your infant’s needs.
There are a few challenges that often arise during spoon feedings. While this approach can allow infants to lead, a concern that the process is moving at the parent’s pace is common. It may be challenging to read your infant’s hunger and fullness cues in the beginning as they can be very subtle. Another challenge of the spoon-fed approach is that it is time-consuming. Cooking, blending, and often freezing your pureed foods and spoon-feeding for the entirety of the meal is a big-time commitment for many parents. Spoon feeding can also make it harder to eat at the same time as your infant, as you have to actively feed them throughout the meal.
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)
The baby-led weaning method focuses on letting the infant directly control the weaning process (1). This independence allows your infant to decide what to eat, how much, and how quickly. In this method, parents replace pureed foods with family foods. Infants are encouraged to assert their independence during meals and are the only ones to put food in their mouths using hands and when age-appropriate, utensils. With BLW, the goal is to allow for exploration of food, but meeting your infant’s key nutrient needs is also very important.
One of the benefits of this method is that it allows your infant to determine the pace. Controlling how much food and whether to eat allows them to listen to their hunger and fullness cues throughout the meal. Studies show this approach can lead to better appetite control and less weight gain later in life (2). Introducing infants to various textures through BLW from the beginning can also make the transition to texture more smooth. One study suggests that exposing infants to a wide variety of flavors and textures before the age of 1 leads to greater acceptance of foods and may reduce picky eating later in life (3). Furthermore, as your infant explores food through sight, touch, smell, and taste, it is not only beneficial for their sensory development, but for their hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and oral motor skills as well. In contrast with traditional feeding, food preparation using BLW is not as time-consuming because you can provide modified family foods for your infant.
One of the biggest challenges with BLW is the concern around gagging and choking. Gagging is a normal response to learning how to eat; this reflex is important in preventing choking. Fortunately, when using the BLW method properly, the risk of choking is no higher than spoon feeding with purees (4). Until developing oral skills that include tongue control and lateralization, gagging will help prevent choking. Another challenge of this approach is not knowing how much your infant actually consumes over the course of a meal. But, it is possible for your infant to get enough to eat as long as you are providing the right foods; these foods are high in iron, fat, and fiber and have a variety of textures as well. A recent study in 2015 found that as long as parents provide their infants with appropriate food, the nutritional intake of using baby-led weaning is no different from traditional feeding methods (5). Opposite of the traditional method, the BLW method of feeding is a messy one. Learning how to move food from the tray to the hand and the mouth will lead to a big mess. However, rest assured that this is an important part of the process, and your infant will eventually learn how to feed themselves.
Which method is best?
You may be thinking, can I combine these two methods? The answer is yes; an integrated approach to first foods can work just as well for you and your infant. The goal is to find the method(s) that works for both you and your infant’s needs. There is no one best way to feed your infant; both traditional weaning and baby-led weaning have their benefits and challenges. As the parent, you get to decide which method you feel most comfortable and confident with. Regardless of which method you choose, what is most important is that it allows you and your infant to create a comfortable eating environment while meeting their nutritional needs.
- Cichero, J. (2016, February 16). Introducing solid foods using baby‐led weaning vs. spoon‐feeding: A focus on oral development, nutrient intake and quality of research to bring balance to the debate. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nbu.12191
- Brown, A., & Lee, M. (2013, December 17). Early influences on child satiety‐responsiveness: The role of weaning style. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.2047-6310.2013.00207.x
- De Cosmi, V., Scaglioni, S., & Agostoni, C. (2017, February 4). Early Taste Experiences and Later Food Choices. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331538/
- Fangupo, L., Heath, A., Williams, S., Williams, L., Morison, B., Fleming, E., Taylor, R. (2016, October 01). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/4/e20160772.long
- Daniels, L., Heath, A., Williams, S., Cameron, S., Fleming, E., Taylor, B., Taylor, R. (2015, November 12). Baby-Led Introduction to SolidS (BLISS) study: A randomised controlled trial of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4643507/