Starting Solids — Do I Choose Baby-Led Weaning Or Spoon Feeding?
BY SARAH REMMER, REGISTERED DIETITIAN
PHOTO © michelleluo/Twenty20
Jan 9, 2019
The first six months with a new baby can be quite a roller-coaster. Just when you get the hang of sleep schedules and get out the door looking somewhat human, it’s time for solids!
After the initial shock wears off ("How is my baby ready to sit up on their own and consume real food?!"), then comes the panic. Introducing solids to your baby is a big responsibility and there is a ton of information out there. I’m here to help guide you through the process.
If you choose baby-led weaning, keep in mind that this practice is more than just letting your baby feed themselves the food you have offered.
The big debate is often whether to start with purees or go straight to finger foods. The answer is complicated, because it’s ultimately up to you. Both sides of the coin have positive attributes. For example, with purees there is peace of mind that food will be consumed safely, it’s not as messy (although still messy) and you have more control over the foods offered and consumed.
Starting with finger foods and letting baby self-feed from the beginning also has lots of benefits. From six months, self-feeding or baby-led weaning allows baby to control how much they consume and at what rate, which helps them self-regulate and develop oral motor skills (as well as dexterity) earlier as well.
My recommendation would be — whatever method you choose — to follow your baby’s lead.
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According to recommendations from the government, children (and caregivers) should practice “responsive feeding," which basically means feeding your child according to their hunger and satiety cues. We do this by observing and listening to our babies. If you choose to spoon feed your baby, let them help you lead the spoon into their mouths, and avoid forcing the spoon or coaxing them to open up. This means no playing airplane! Signs of readiness to eat include when your baby opens their mouth, guides the spoon and licks their lips. When your baby is all done, they will let you know by pushing the spoon away, turning their head away or spitting out food. Or they may just get really distracted and become disinterested.
It’s hard not to use age-old strategies such as hovering, coaxing or pressuring them to eat when we feel they haven’t had enough.
If you choose baby-led weaning, keep in mind that this practice is more than just letting your baby feed themselves the food you have offered. It’s about trusting your baby to know how much food they need at that given feeding opportunity. This can be a tricky concept to grasp, but it’s important to know that our little ones are naturally intuitive eaters!
When starting solids, we can unintentionally provide pressure to our little ones to eat as much as we deem appropriate, what we feel they need. But babies know exactly how much to eat — they eat when they’re hungry, at the pace their body needs, and then stop when they’re comfortably full. In fact, we adults could take a page from their book! In saying that, it’s completely understandable for parents to have their own feeding agenda given that we all know how important proper nutrition is for growth and development (no pressure, right?). It’s hard not to use age-old strategies such as hovering, coaxing or pressuring them to eat when we feel they haven’t had enough. This is where baby-led weaning really shines — baby is fully in charge of if, what and how fast they eat, which nurtures their intuitive eating skills.
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Remember that it’s completely normal for babies’ (and toddlers’) eating to be all over the map, and for many reasons. It could be teething pain, growth spurts, feeling unwell, what was eaten at the last meal or for no logical reason at all! Try not to focus on the amount your baby eats at any particular meal or during any particular day, but rather what’s consumed throughout the week (including breastmilk and formula). If you’re concerned, or your baby is falling off their growth chart or otherwise showing any signs of malnutrition, make sure you talk to their doctor or pediatrician, but otherwise, they’re likely getting what they need!
Try not to focus on the amount your baby eats at any particular meal or during any particular day, but rather what’s consumed throughout the week....
It’s important to keep in mind that when you start solids — regardless of feeding method — iron-rich foods are key right from the start. Babies between six and 12 months of age should be offered iron-rich food at least twice a day. This includes: soft and tender pieces of meat, well-cooked whole eggs, beans, lentils and iron-fortified infant cereal. This is because around six months of age is when babies’ maternal irons stores start to be depleted — they need it from food!
The bottom line is that both methods of feeding can work great. Personally, I chose a combination of spoon feeding and letting baby self-feed finger foods, because that’s what worked best for my family. The combination feeding approach followed the “responsive” feeding approach, which meant — although I was in control of what food was offered — my babies were in control of whether they ate the food and how much.
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