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Starting Safe, Staying Safe

The meaning of baby-led weaning

Introducing baby to solid foods is an exciting time but it can also be a bit confusing. What’s the safest way to feed baby as they learn to get their tongue around new textures?

One of the biggest areas of confusion when starting out on the solid food journey is whether to go with traditional spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning. 

There’s been a lot of talk about baby-led weaning recently, so we’re here to cut through the noise to help you determine which style works best for your family - you have a hungry bub waiting, after all!

Baby-led weaning: What is it and why is it different from traditional spoon-feeding?

The traditional way of introducing solid food to babies is spoon-feeding. In this feeding style, first foods might include pureed vegetables, meats and fruits. The parent or carer is in control of the spoon and the baby is typically fed at each sitting until they turn their head away from the food or the parent believes they are full.

With baby-led weaning, the baby has more control over their eating. Babies are provided with finger foods that they pick up and feed to themselves. The idea behind this approach is that babies can choose their food of choice from an offered selection rather than being fed by someone else.

As with spoon-feeding, baby-led weaning starts when your baby shows signs of readiness, which is usually around 6 months of age.

When ready for baby-led weaning babies;

    • Can sit up on their own without much help
    • Can pick up foods and bring them to their mouth themselves
    • Show signs of being interested in food

When using a high chair ensure you check the quick 6 safety tips.

Baby-led weaning vs. purees

To help you make an educated decision about which feeding style is right for your family, we’ve pulled together a list of the pros and cons of both baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding approaches.

The pros of baby-led weaning are:

    • Your baby will eat food the whole family is eating, so there will be little need for further food preparation

    • Allows baby a chance to choose, pick up and explore food for themselves

    • Baby will eat foods with a whole range of different textures right from the beginning.

The cons of baby-led weaning are:

    • You’ll have less control over what your baby is eating so you may feel like they’re not getting enough nutrients (especially essential nutrients such as iron)

    • Exposure to a wide variety of flavors in the first few months is super important in the first few months which can be more challenging with finger foods

    • Family foods are not always appropriate foods for babies

    • It can tempting to resort to highly processed snack options

    • Some people may become concerned about choking hazards with whole foods.

The pros of spoon-feeding are:

    • Exposure to wide range of healthy foods spanning the flavour spectrum (link to flavour training) 

    • Ability to provide nutrient dense foods to ensure they’re receiving adequate nutrients from food

    • You may feel less concerned about choking when feeding babies this way.

    • Solids should not be introduced before 6 months due to the higher risk of choking with finger foods

The cons of spoon-feeding are:

    • Parents must be in tune with baby’s hunger and fullness cues and allow babies to self-regulate their food intake, which is an important skill to learn for life

    • If babies continue eating purees for too long without introducing other textures it can slow down their developmental skills 

    • Many convenient puree options can be heavily processed foods, devoid of flavour or high in sugar.

The best of both

Many parents choose to use a combination of both feeding methods. Spoon-feeding purees can be helpful to expose babies to a range of flavors which can be harder with only finger foods. Spoon-feeding purees also ensures babies are receiving nutrient-dense foods to optimize growth and development.

Baby-led weaning incorporates finger foods for sensory and motor development and helps both parents and babies become aware of fullness cues. Babies are allowed an opportunity to explore food and have an opportunity to learn to self-feed from the beginning.

Research shows no difference in choking incidents between spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning. Latest research also encourages parents to introduce common allergens such as egg and nuts to their babies as soon as solids are first introduced, generally around 6 months of age no matter which approach you choose.

You should always choose the feeding method which suits you and your baby’s needs, but a combination approach may be best for you. If choosing to incorporate baby-led weaning, it is vital you wait until your baby is developmentally ready and showing signs of readiness.  If you have questions about your baby's readiness, consult with your baby's healthcare professional.

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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