As you start your baby-led weaning journey, you may be wondering if you can combine spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning.
Spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning can be combined. The World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health recommend that you introduce finger foods when you introduce solids in general. This means that you can offer your baby pureed foods on a spoon as well as finger foods in a more baby-led weaning approach.
What is the difference between baby-led weaning and spoon-fed weaning?
Weaning is also often called complementary feeding and is it basically introducing solids in addition to breastmilk and formula milk when your baby is about 6 months old.
Starting solids is a fun and exciting time with your little one. It’s a huge milestone in your baby’s development. So, you’re probably wondering if you should introduce solids my pureeing them or by offering finger foods.
Traditional weaning generally involves spoon-feeding purees and mashed foods. As your baby learns to cope with eating purees, you gradually offer more textures and lumps until they are able to manage solids.
Baby-led weaning, on the other hand, is when you introduce soft solid food right from the outset. Your baby learns to chew and swallow foods in their own time and at their own pace. Gill Rapley, author of the Baby Led Weaning book, is not against pureed foods. She just suggests that serving purees is not necessary when introducing your baby to solids.
Combining Spoon Feeding and Baby Led Weaning
If you think of the foods that you eat as an adult, some you eat with a spoon and others you eat with a knife and fork (although your baby will use their hands for these kinds of foods).
Think of food like porridge, cereal, yogurt, soups. We use a spoon for all of those.
If you are doing baby-led weaning, does that mean that you don’t offer those kinds of foods to your baby?
Of course not.
It is important to expose your little one to a variety of textures and tastes. So, one of the ways to go about this is to try pre loading the spoon and giving it to your baby to put in his mouth. In the beginning, it is going to be hit and miss though.
The other way to go about it is for you to load the spoon and hold it for your baby, allowing her to open her mouth and move toward the spoon.
The main principle here is that your baby leads and is in control of the process.
What Mixing Approaches might Look Like
So how does this work on a practical level?
Well, let’s take breakfast for example. Let’s say breakfast is going to be fruit and yogurt. You prepare some fruit like strawberries and a banana. You make sure you have a bib with sleeves cause you know that strawberries and banana are going to stain! You also have baby yogurt on hand.
So, you offer the table food – strawberries and banana and let your little one explore those. Then you dip the spoon into the yogurt and offer the spoon. That way you are combining spoon feeding and finger foods, responding to your baby’s cues as you go.
I’m sure you can see from this how combining spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning can be a natural approach to introducing solids and improving your baby’s feeding skills.
When you’re in the midst of introducing solids, it can be difficult to decide which approach is best. But one of the most important things to bear in mind is something called “responsive feeding”.
Benefits of Combining Baby Led Weaning and Spoon Feeding
So, not only is it possible to combine these two approaches, there are some clear benefits too.
1. It gives you flexibility
There is nothing worse than being out for the day and realising that you don’t have enough food for your little one. Sure, you can still breastfeed or offer a bottle but what about solids? Well, if your baby is comfortable with a spoon, you can easily find convenient baby foods at the local store that you can offer.
Or perhaps you are at a restaurant and you don’ have any pureed food with you. No problem! You can offer some bread, steamed vegetables or something from your plate.
Combining the two approaches gives you flexibility and options.
2. It allows you to introduce allergens at the right time
Now, this is something that I had not thought of when I was weaning but it is important to expose your little one to allergens before they are 1. I know that it seems counterintuitive but the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy suggest that babies should be exposed to allergens before they turn 1.
This actually helps to lessen the risk of them developing an allergy to foods as they grow.
Some foods are tricky to offer as finger foods. And some are tricky to offer as purees. Combining finger foods and purees or mashed foods means that you’re able to expose your baby to a wide range of foods and potential allergens at the right time.
3. You can make sure your baby is getting adequate nutrition
In the first 6 months of life when your baby is breast or bottle-fed, they are getting all of their nutritional needs met through their milk.
But at around 6 months, their nutritional needs begin to change. By combining the two approaches, you can make sure that your baby is eating a variety of foods with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
This means that you are ensuring your baby gets all the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.
The Most Important Part of Introducing Solids
There are strong supporters of baby-led weaning who will suggest that you shouldn’t offer pureed foods to your baby and stong supporters of traditional weaning who will suggest that baby-led weaning is not the way to go.
I fall in the middle where I used a combined approach with both of my children.
And to be honest, whether you spoon-feed or do baby-led weaning, the most important thing is that you respond to your baby’s needs.
What is Responsive Feeding?
Responsive feeding involves being “in tune” with your child and responding to their needs. For example, if your baby is really hungry and getting increasingly frustrated with finger foods (perhaps they don’t yet have the fine motor or oral skills to actually chew and swallow finger foods), offering some pureed or mashed foods on a spoon or breastfeeding can help alleviate the frustration your baby might be feeling.
“Responsive Feeding is the foundation for the development of healthy eating behaviour and optimal skills for self-regulation and self-control of food intake.”
Being responsive to your little one’s feeding cues – feeding them when they’re hungry and stopping when they are full – will lead to healthy eating habits, harmonious supper time and a good relationship toward food.
So, whether your baby is spoon-fed or using baby-led weaning, responding to their cues is vital. In my opinion, combining baby led weaning and spoon feeding helps to make you more responsive to your baby’s needs and give you a lot of flexibility on this weaning journey.