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Spoon- fed or Baby-led Weaning: The Best of Both Worlds

With so much conflicting information on the internet and in our social media feeds about either Spoon-fed (parent-led) or baby-led weaning, trying to find the right approach to starting solids for your family can be overwhelming. Parents, mums particularly can even feel anxious about the whole Introducing solids process. 

Whether choosing one or the other, there is no right answer. In fact, a combination of both parent-led and baby-led weaning is a wonderful way to open up a child’s palate to a variety of textures and tastes. 

Baby Led or Parent-Led Weaning – What’s the Difference?

Let’s take a look at the benefits of each approach. Basically, baby-led weaning is skipping the purees altogether and moving straight to whole foods. With baby-led weaning, babies will generally take the lead of when and what they are eating. The majority of the food consumed is finger food. 

Whether it’s a stick of avocado, a chunk of broccoli or a lamb chop, giving babies finger food encourages them to develop their autonomy in their eating while discovering different flavours and textures. Exploring a mixture of textures and sizes of food freely also help your baby develop their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. The different textures help strengthen their oral muscles for language and communication later. 

While they can discover new tastes with baby-led weaning, babies won’t necessarily eat much of what’s offered the food. This can make it harder for parents to determine how much food their little one actually eats and if they’re reaching their daily calorie needs.

Parent-led weaning, also known as introducing purees or spoon feeding as the first introduction to solids, provides a more structured parent guided approach to introducing new foods. Introducing solids like this allows parents to introduce new flavours in a simpler and more palatable texture for the baby. Parents can also control the first tastes and textures while providing a much larger variety and combination. Gradually as babies adjust to the new flavours, more lumps, thicker consistency and finger foods are introduces. 

Both approaches of baby-led and parent-led weaning have great benefits. So why choose one over the other? In my opinion, a mixture of both parent-led and baby-led weaning works best. I don’t believe that one or the other is better, and variety is the spice of life. So why limit yourself or your baby to one or the other. 

To help parents decide what might work best for them and their baby, here are our answers to some common questions:

How do I know if my baby is ready for solids?

Some babies will start at four months, and some may not start until 6/7 months. Generally speaking, the average age is between 5 to 6 months. 

Babies may be ready to start solids when they:

These are all clear signs that your baby is ready to start solids. 

If babies are pushing out the food with their tongue (using the extrusion reflex), this is YOUR baby telling you I’m not quite ready. Put the spoon or chop down and try again in another week or two. Just give it time.

How much food do I give them?

Start small, at first, generally start with one tablespoon once a day and see how your baby goes. If all goes well, parents can add another flavour or combination of flavours. You can go with your babies lead with this, but don’t go more than one tablespoon once a day until they have had a bowel motion before adding another. A second meal and new flavours can be added in week two, and in the following weeks, when both you and your baby are ready, you can add a third meal into their day.

Is my baby eating too much?

Start slow, see how your baby tolerates the food and use your common sense. Babies are great regulators of their appetites, and most babies will turn their heads or purse their lips when they have had enough. Still, some babies don’t seem to have an off switch, so offer what you feel would be appropriate for your babies age and size, and if they still want more, wait 5 minutes and see if their brain catches up to their tummy.   

Should I do food before milk or after milk? 

 I prefer to keep meals and milk completely separate from each other rather than offer one then the other soon after, which may mean they are not hungry. As a general rule, aim to offer a milk feed within 30 minutes of wake up and solids within an hour of their nap. By around ten months, your baby may start to reduce their milk intake to 3 feeds a day, and at this point, you can offer one in the morning, one before their second nap and one before bedtime at night while offering three meals a day with the occasional snacks. 

What foods do I start them with?

Whole real food: Selecting whole foods rather than supermarket based baby food products builds the foundation for a well-balanced nutritional diet. 

A great start is to prepare a big cook up of vegetables and a few fruits like apple and pear. You can start with introducing one at a time and then combinations first.

Then start adding –

Iron-fortified foods like bone broth, marrow, lentils, meats, tofu, eggs and fish. 

You can also start to add 

Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, nut butter, olive oil, coconut cream, dairy into their diet.

With a mix of fruits and grains in moderation. 

Fun Fact – flavours that babies have tasted more than 21 times before the age of 12-18 months are more likely to stay in their diet past this age. Foods that they have only tasted a handful of times are likely to be swiped off the highchair, so make sure to offer food that your family regularly eats to your babies’ diet. 

Should I offer water with their food? 

Yes, generally, once you introduce solids, it’s a good idea to offer your baby a little water with their meals. Aim only to offer this as a thirst quencher and that they are not filling up on water. At six mths- about 20 MLS per meal, 9 mths – 40 MLS per meal 12 mths no more than 200 MLS per day.  

What about the high allergy foods?

High allergy foods generally include eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk, tree nuts, soy, sesame, wheat, and shellfish. 

Get Ready to Get Messy!

Eating is a messy business for babies, so embrace it! Babies explore foods with their faces, hands and mouth. They learn to love food by not just eating but also playing with it. It’s important to let them do this freely and enjoy the innocents and primal nature. Wait till the end of the meal for face washing and cleanups. 

The Best of Both Worlds

Taking tips from both baby-led and parent-led weaning lets parents decide based on their parenting style and their baby’s needs. It also takes away the stress and pressure in trying to stick to strict do’s and don’ts.