While most of us were probably brought up on purees and baby-food jars as our first solid food, baby-led weaning is a modern parenting trend that is often talked about as if it is complicated, but really just means offering your child finger food (rather than mashed up purees) from the get go. “But just because baby-led weaning seems to be the popular weaning route to go down, it doesn’t mean that you should opt for this method too,” says children’s cookbook author Annabel Karmel. “It’s about choosing the method that works for you and your baby.”
Both spoon-led and baby-led weaning have their pros and cons, so it really does come down to personal choice and what your baby is ready for developmentally.
Annabel explains: “Looking at baby-led weaning specifically, the idea is that you skip the puree phase and instead you start with soft fingers foods and small portions of family meals from six months.
“This feeding method requires you to take a step back and put your baby in control, allowing them to decide what foods they want to eat from what you offer, when they want to eat, in what order and how much. I know that sounds a little daunting, but this process is actually quite intuitive for a baby – especially if they are watching the rest of the family eat.”
BABY-LED WEANING BENEFITS
1. Can impact on fussiness later in life. It is thought that babies who are given the opportunity to explore a wide variety of foods for themselves from the very start, which for baby-led weaning should be six months, could be less fussy later in life. Some research has found that babies who haven’t been offered a wide variety of foods or haven’t progressed quickly enough to textures can become picky.
2. Exploring their food is how they learn. Babies can learn a lot from handling food; from getting to grips with different shapes, sizes, sounds, weights as well as tastes and textures.
3. Encourages hand-to-eye coordination. Regularly handling foods improves their dexterity which is a hugely important skill to master.
4. It can help with appetite control. Whilst more research needs to be done into the connection between baby-led weaning and obesity, there are suggestions that a baby is less likely to over-eat if they are allowed to choose what they eat from a range of nutritious foods. Having foods laid out in front of them also encourages babies to eat at their own pace and decide when they’ve had enough.
5. It gives them confidence in their own abilities. The more they discover for themselves, the more they realise they are capable of making things happen!
6. Mealtimes become a social occasion. When baby is eating what the rest of the family are having (albeit sometimes deconstructed and minus the added salt of course), they feel included and will mimic and copy you and the family.
7. Less time spent in the kitchen! Your little one is eating what everyone else is having which means… less meals to prep and more time to be getting on with other things. Plus, your meals will become healthier too!
As you can see there are lots of positives associated with baby-lead weaning but it’s not for everyone and many of the positives above can also be applied to spoon-led weaning too.
And, prior to six months, babies tend not to have developed the hand-to-eye coordination needed for baby-led weaning, so it’s not an option if your baby is ready to wean slightly earlier than six months.
A COMBINED APPROACH
I personally don’t think you have to choose one method of the other. Combining both purees and soft finger foods at around six months is an option many parents find most realistic to adopt and an option advocated by many healthcare professionals.
Giving purees when your baby is ready for first foods at around six months, with the introduction of easy-to-manage finger foods and baby-friendly family meals from 6 months onwards, provides baby with the opportunity to explore a variety of foods served up in different ways, whilst offering that peace of mind around their nutritional intake.
By six and a half months, all babies should be having soft finger foods anyway, even if served alongside mashed or textured purees.
What is important is that you are offering your baby a variety of nutritious foods and that they get to be a part of family mealtimes with the opportunity to soak up their social surroundings and watch you or a member of the family eating a range of healthy foods.