When it comes to starting solid foods, there are so many different voices and recommendations out there! It can be so easy as a new parent to feel overwhelmed and have no clue what to do.
Should you take a more traditional weaning feeding approach, where baby is fed pureed foods with a spoon? Or use a baby led weaning style of feeding, where you go straight to finger foods?
Each weaning method has its pros and cons, and there is no right way for everyone that is going to look the same. So let's talk about what your different options are!
What to Know About Starting Solid Foods
Before we get into each specific method, let's talk about the things that will help every parent when it comes to feeding. Regardless of whether you are doing baby led weaning or spoon feeding pureed foods.
HOW You Feed Is More Important Than WHAT You Feed
With this, I don't mean how as in what method you choose. I mean how as in how you approach family mealtimes. Or what you as the adult do and say at the table and around food.
How you are around food is the important thing. Not which foods you serve or the style that you serve them in.
That may seem a little abstract, and even strange coming from a dietitian who is trained in all things food. But I imagine since you are here doing research on feeding kids, that you are deeply invested and concerned with your baby's wellbeing. And that's why it's vital to understand this!
As parents, we tend to get caught up in the what of feeding. Which method is best, which foods are best. And while those play a part, sure, the absolute most important thing isn't the food!
How we behave around food, and towards our kids around food is the most important part of feeding!
I know that can feel like a lot of pressure. Especially since that is the aspect of feeding that we are generally not taught! Instead, it's passed down through grandparents and friends who often have their own complicated relationship with food.
Helping you learn the HOW of feeding so we can break this cycle is exactly why I created my course, Starting Solids: Setting the Foundation. To help you with a gameplan for starting solids that not only considers what food to serve, but how to serve it in a way that will set you and your child's feeding relationship up well from that very first bite.
Get the Starting Solids: Setting the Foundation Course Today!
Answers and guidance that you never knew you needed. The foundations course will set you and your child up for a lifetime of positive feeding and eating!
Consider the rest of what I'm going to talk about in this article in that light. Choosing a method of feeding is a way to help you succeed in how you feed your baby. Choose one that will work best for your family and which will allow you to focus on the how of feeding!
Signs of Readiness for Starting Solids
Regardless of whether you go the route of the traditional approach or the BLW approach to feeding, make sure you are watching for the developmental signs of readiness before starting solids.
These generally appear around 6 months of age. There is not a different time to start solids if you are doing the more traditional feeding method of spoon-feeding purees. All babies should be waiting until the developmental signs of readiness are there.
What Do We Mean By "Traditional Feeding Method"?
You've heard me say it, and may have heard it other places, too. But just what exactly do we mean when we say that?
Think baby food here! The traditional way of spoon feeding your baby. You start with smooth purees that are essentially a step up from breast milk or formula. You then gradually transition your baby from these thin purees through different textures, including fork mashed foods, lumpy purees, and eventually smaller pieces of finger foods and then full table foods.
The Pros of Spoon-Feeding Pureed Foods
- You know exactly how much your baby is eating.
- By starting with purees, you are able to get used to your baby eating food and gradually work your way up to trickier textures.
- The mess of feeding can be controlled (somewhat!)
- You can buy baby food at the store.
The Cons of the Traditional Method of Spoon-Feeding Purees
- It is easier to influence or encourage your baby to eat more than their body is telling them it needs.
- It is easy to stick with purees much longer than the intended window of approximately 6-8 weeks.
- You aren't able to eat your own food and model appropriate table behaviors when you are focused on spoon feeding your baby.
What Does Baby Led Weaning Mean?
Baby led weaning, or BLW, has become quite popular recently. And when it comes down to it, there are many different ways that this term has come to be used.
Some people use BLW to mean strictly what was talked about in the original baby led weaning book by Gill Rapley. Others use it to mean something completely different.
At its heart, Baby Led Weaning means giving your baby finger foods right from the beginning of feeding. These foods are generally similar, or the same, as the rest of the family foods you are serving.
Often, you will need to adapt the texture of your family meals so that you ensure you are feeding your baby soft foods and appropriately sized pieces of food.
BLW also involves allowing your baby to self-feed. This means that your baby might not eat as much food as if they were eating purees when they first start. But it also means that your baby is going to instinctively listen to their body when it comes to their hunger and satiety cues.
Baby Led Weaning Doesn't Mean No Purees
Contrary to popular belief, doing a baby led weaning style of feeding doesn't mean that your baby won't eat purees! Purees are a texture of food, just like any other, and are important for your baby to be familiar with.
You and I eat pureed foods in the form of yogurt, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and many others.
The difference between baby led weaning and traditional weaning methods is that you don't need to do any additional pureeing of foods that would normally be served another way.
The Risk of Choking With Baby Led Weaning
One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents is around the potential risk of choking when it comes to the baby led weaning method of feeding. Research shows, however, that when parents are educated about how to safely serve foods, there is no greater risk of choking with BLW than with traditional spoon-feeding. (source)
The key for all forms of weaning is knowing what the high-risk choking hazards are and how to modify food so that it is safe.
The Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
- Encourages your baby to take the lead in eating and sets parents up to foster their baby's ability to listen to their hunger and fullness cues and how much they eat.
- Helps to easily set mealtimes up to include the whole family
- Encourages parents to serve many different textures to babies right from the start. (This helps with greater texture acceptance down the line and potentially less picky eating!)
The Cons of Baby Led Weaning
- Can be messy!
- Is hard to tell how much your baby is eating at the beginning. (While this is ostensibly a con, remember, your baby taking the lead in how much they eat is not a bad thing and actually sets you up to listen to their bodies more in the long term!)
- Can be nerve-wracking when it comes to gagging and choking risk. Gagging is expected and a protective action that your baby uses to help prevent choking. But that doesn't mean it won't make you nervous sometimes! (Learn more about gagging vs choking here.)
What to Focus On With Feeding, No Matter What Feeding Method You Choose
No matter what method you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to feeding.
Responsive Feeding Is Key!
Responsive feeding is when you are paying attention to your baby's hunger and fullness cues and following your baby's lead. It's when you are stopping with feeding when your baby signals that they are full, or giving more food if they say they are hungry.
Even if it seems like they shouldn't be hungry or full!
Responsive feeding practices are the gold standard when it comes to feeding, and are recommended by all the major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.
One of the reasons that I love baby led weaning is responsive feeding principles are baked into the philosophy. It makes it really easy for parents to start, and follow, responsive feeding.
But that doesn't mean that you can't practice responsive feeding with a traditional spoon-feeding method! You absolutely can, you just need to be much more aware and intentional with how you're feeding.
Responsive feeding is at the core of the HOW of feeding that I talked about above!
Focus on Variety
No matter the feeding method, keep in mind the importance of exposing your child to a variety of textures, different tastes, and new foods frequently.
I know that variety seems to be the buzzword in nutrition circles, but it really is important! Research shows that there is a texture and taste window which closes right around that 9-10 month mark. (source)
That means that it is imperative to do your best to introduce those different textures and flavors frequently to help them set a great foundation for food acceptance as they grow.
Offer Iron-Rich Foods
From a nutritional standpoint, right around 6 months babies start to need more iron than they get from breast milk or formula. One of the best ways to help them meet their nutritional needs is to offer an iron-rich food with every meal.
Babies tend not to be offered enough iron-rich foods, whether they are doing BLW or are traditionally spoon-fed. Iron needs are a primary reason we start solid foods when we do, and are something to prioritize!
There Is No Right Way That Will Work for Everyone
Every family is different, and there is no best way when it comes to feeding! The best way is the way that works for your family.
That may mean you do baby led weaning. It may mean you spoon-feed. It may mean you take a combination approach. There are so many different approaches, and variations on approaches. It will look different for everyone.
Feeding doesn't have to be all one way or all another. The best way to feed is in a way that helps your child to master their new skill of eating while at the same time allowing you to be the most calm and present parent that you can be.
Because at the end of the day, how mealtimes are structure and how you are around food is more important for your child than the specific food you feed them!