If you read parenting forums you come across many ‘Spoon vs Baby Led Weaning’ debates; it’s as heated these days as breast vs bottle arguments!
Is baby-led weaning really better than spoon-feeding?
I’ve seen parents in online groups boast about doing ‘exclusive baby-led weaning’. The implied meaning here is that 100% finger foods are superior to finger foods with some spoon feeding thrown in.
But, says who?
There’s no evidence that self-feeding benefits are lost by also offering spoon-feeds. Current guidelines suggest otherwise. If you want your baby to have the broadest exposure to various foods (and therefore nutrients), it makes sense to keep an open mind and use a flexible approach.
Don’t buy into the baby-led weaning vs spoon-feeding debate.
It’s just another example of ‘competitive parenting’, and rather than being two equally good or complementary options; it makes parents feel inadequate about parenting choices.
What are the current guidelines?
HSE Guidelines in Ireland and the NHS guidelines in the UK both recommend spoon-feeding plus the introduction of finger foods from six months. Therefore, the choice is not to introduce finger foods at six months, but whether you decide to do just the finger food bit and skip the spoon-feeding. Spoon feeding without introducing finger foods isn’t a good an option in the long run. Although it’s OK to start with a week or two of just spoon feeds and then add in the finger foods.
LEARN MORE: When is my baby is ready for solids?
So, what are the pros of baby-led weaning?
You use family foods
You feed family foods meaning there’s no need to make special meals. True, but this is also possible when you offer your baby food from a spoon. Just ensure you modify your family meals to make them suitable. You find lots of baby-led weaning recipes in books and online, so people doing baby-led weaning often make ‘special’ meals and snacks for their babies.
Helps baby to self-regulate
When your baby regulates their own food intake there’s less risk of over-feeding. Again this is probably true, but responsive spoon-feeding won’t lead to overfeeding either and will allow your baby to dictate the amount of food eaten.
You include baby in family mealtimes
Your baby is included in family mealtimes right from day one-this can and should happen for all babies, whether self-feeding or eating from a spoon. This isn’t always practical at every meal for every family, and that’s alright too!
They develop great co-ordination
Self-feeding helps with motor skill development. Right, that’s why finger foods are essential for all babies from 6 months. You don’t lose these benefits if you also offer some foods from a spoon.
Some possible cons for baby-led weaning?
Not all babies are able to self-feed safely
Not all babies are developmentally ready to self-feed at six months, and therefore for some, it can be months before they eat in any meaningful way. Have you heard the phrase ‘food before one is just for fun’? While partly true, food should be fun, there are nutritional reasons, such as declining Iron stores, why some foods are needed alongside milk from six months. For these babies, offering spoon-feeds alongside finger foods helps them get the nutrition they need whilst developing self-feeding skills.
Iron intakes can be lower
One study has shown baby-led weaning babies to eat lower intakes of iron and zinc, probably because parents are anxious about offering meat as a first finger food. It’s crucial to offer Iron-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs and fortified cereals in an appropriate finger food form or as a spoon-feed or both from six months.
You can get stuck on dry textures
Getting stuck in a muffin, pancake, pinwheel trap! This is no different to getting stuck on purées. Babies need exposure to a variety of textures and tastes. Lots of baby-led weaning revolves around muffins, pancakes or foods wrapped in pastry. Your baby needs to experience wet foods. Of course, babies can eat porridge or casseroles with their fingers, but parents can be reluctant to offer them because of the mess.
Either brave it and offer porridge, stews or fish pies as a finger food (lots of bibs and wipes) or provide from a spoon. Some people like to pre-load spoons for their baby to self-feed which is fine but remember it’s OK to feed them too as long as you’re not feeding them against their will!
READ MORE: 9 Everyday foods that contain iron
Don’t restrict yourself to one method, and there is no right or wrong!
In a nutshell, stay open-minded to all approaches, either full-on baby-led weaning or a combined approach. Remember, your baby will soon let you know which method they prefer (it might be different from yours!) and this will also change from day to day, week to week. There is no right or wrong as long as you offer your baby healthy family foods at relaxed mealtimes.
Learn more about fuss-free and flexible weaning with my online course, Ready, Steady, Wean.