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Baby-led Weaning vs Spoon Feeding: Different Ways to Introduce Solids

September 29, 2021 3 min read

There are many different ways to introduce solids to your baby -  from spoon-feeding purees to letting your little one intuitively reach for finger foods and put them in their mouth.

The two most popular methods of introducing solids are baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding. Each method has its pros and cons, and you should do the method you feel most comfortable and confident with. Here are some of the biggest things to consider when deciding what method is best for you and your baby.

What is baby-led weaning?

Finger food first, also known as baby-led weaning, is a way to introduce solids to your little one that relies on their natural instinct to bring food to their mouths.

Skipping purées and spoon feeding entirely, babies are encouraged to feed themselves independently, choosing different tastes and textures at will. Babies have a number of built in reflexes to manage finger food as early as 6 months of age. These reflexes help them bite, chew, swallow and even push food forward and out of the mouth. 

The best foods for baby-led weaning are finger-thick, soft, and easily squishable between your fingers. Some examples of finger-thick foods include banana, sweet potato fries or wedges, green beans, mango slices and avocado. Try to avoid slippery foods that are hard to hold, or choking hazards like raw apple or whole nuts. To avoid any hazards for your child, slice up foods into small easily manageable pieces, or steam fruits and vegetables until they are soft - just be sure that they are cooled before serving! 

Allowing your baby to make all food choices for him or herself, parent’s should still be nearby to monitor and help guide their baby through the weaning process. It is important to let your child handle the food themselves, and not to push food into their mouth. 

By exploring baby-led weaning, you are allowing your little one to try a wide variety of tastes and textures, set their own feeding pace, establish a healthy relationship with food, and enhance oral and motor skills.

Benefits of baby-led weaning

  • Improved oral and motor skills
  • Encourages an adventurous palette with different textures
  • Easy to enjoy family meals together
  • Less work to mash and puree foods
  • Creates a responsive feeding environment

What is spoon-feeding?

Spoon-feeding has traditionally been the prevalent way to introduce solids to babies. With this type of feeding technique, you start with smooth mashes or purées, and progress to thicker and lumpier textures over time. 

Due to the puréed nature, these foods need to be spoon-fed by a caretaker, but as you progress to thicker textures, you can hand your child the spoon and they can practice self-feeding. 

It's best to offer your baby a variety of foods, like fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats in this feeding format so they get a variety of tastes, textures, and nutrients from the start. Shallow or flat spoons are best while spoon-feeding to prevent scraping the spoon on the roof of their mouth. 

With spoon-feeding, it is important to progress to appropriate textures to help develop the oral and motor skills they need. Staying on thin, watery purees for too long can make transition to thicker, lumpier foods harder. 

Benefits of spoon-feeding

  • Fewer choking hazards
  • More control in the nutrient intake as less food ends up on the ground
  • Saves time to serve pre-made purees
  • Improved motor and oral skills
  • Encourages healthy mealtime habits with the family

Do I have to choose between baby-led weaning and spoon feeding?

There is no one best way to feed your baby. Recent studies found that there was no significant difference in nutrient intake between baby led weaning and traditional feeding, as long as parents were providing appropriate foods. Whatever feeding method makes you comfortable, confident, and is the best fit for your family will be perfect for you and your little one.

In fact, you can offer your baby a combination of mashed foods and finger foods starting at 4-6 months. As you introduce solids, you may find that your baby will prefer one way of feeding over the other, but they can still learn both skills at the same time. Just remember that introduction of food is complementary to breastmilk and/or formula feeding, which should remain the primary source of nutrients and calories up through the first year.