Written by nutritionist Catherine Lippe RNutr BSc(Hons).

When it comes to weaning there are many choices to be made; when to start, what foods to start with and the all-important question of baby-led or spoon-fed weaning?

We want to make these choices a little easier, which is why we’ve enlisted the help of our nutritionist, Catherine Lippe RNutr, to break down the facts and share the evidence about baby-led versus spoon-fed weaning.

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

Baby-led weaning is another way of describing self -feeding. You put the food in front of your baby and allow them to pick the food up and feed themselves. With baby-led weaning, your baby is in control of what goes into their mouth.

What is Spoon-Fed Weaning?

Spoon-fed weaning typically involves feeding your baby yourself with a spoon. Although it’s still important to follow your baby’s cues, you are much more in charge of putting the food up to your baby’s mouth. When your baby opens their mouth ready for the food you can put the spoon inside.

Which Method of Weaning Should I Choose?

There is no right or wrong approach and it is possible to do a combination of both baby-led and spoon-fed weaning. You could start with one method and switch if it’s not working for you, or you can do both methods at the same time. Your baby will not get confused if you combine the two methods. 

Offering finger foods alongside mashed or pureed foods and baby food pouches is a great way to increase the variety of textures and expose your baby to food in various forms.

If you’re a little unsure about which method to try first, you might like to think about which will suit you and your baby best.

If your baby is reaching for foods and putting everything into their mouth, you might find that they enjoy baby-led weaning. If your baby needs a little more time to practice their hand-to-mouth co-ordination or is not interested in picking up food just yet, then you might like to start with spoon-fed and progress on to finger foods later.

A baby self-feeding during weaning

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Baby-Led Weaning?

Advantages of baby-led weaning

Disadvantages of baby-led weaning

  • It exposes your baby to whole foods right from the start. Seeing foods in their whole form, rather than mashed or pureed, can increase your baby’s familiarity with these foods.
  • Finger foods encourage chewing right from the start. It is important to note that it’s also possible to encourage chewing with spoon-fed weaning as long as you are offering a variety of textures and move on to soft lumpy textures as soon as your baby is developmentally ready.
  • Your baby is fully in charge of how much they eat. There is less temptation to squeeze in one more spoonful!
  • There is no need to mash or puree the food so you may save time on preparing your homemade baby foods. Your baby may be able to eat elements of your family meals right from the start. Be careful to avoid any foods with added salt or sugar for your baby.
  • There may be more food wastage as your baby plays with and explores the foods with their hands.  Expect food to be dropped, squished in their hands and played with!
  • It can be harder to monitor exactly how much your baby has eaten. This won’t be important for everyone but if you need to monitor how much ‘goes in’ it can be more challenging to do this with a baby-led approach.
  • If you are feeling nervous about your baby gagging, baby-led weaning can feel a little more daunting. Read more about the gag reflex and what to expect below.
  • It will be messy - but mess is fun when it comes to weaning!

Will My Baby Gag on Finger Foods?

All babies are likely to gag on food at some point during weaning and this can happen whether you are spoon-feeding or following baby-led weaning.

Gagging is a normal reflex and is designed as a safety mechanism to stop your baby from choking. If your baby gags on food, they might go red or appear flushed in the face and make lots of noise as they bring the food forward in their mouth. They may also vomit after gagging.

Don’t be alarmed. This is normal and is a very good sign that they are working it out themselves. Try to stay calm, stay close to your baby and avoid intervening unless necessary.

Avoiding Choking During Weaning

Choking is different from gagging and occurs when a piece of food blocks the airways meaning air cannot pass in, or out, of the body.

When the airways are blocked, in a case of choking, your baby will remain silent, and their face or lips may turn blue or grey.

To minimise the risk of choking, always make sure your baby is never left alone with food and is always seated in an upright position with a straight back. Ensure food is of an appropriate size and shape. If you notice that your baby is silent and turning blue/grey, you should start first aid and seek medical attention straight away.

Will My Baby Be Less Fussy if I Follow a Baby-Led Weaning Approach?

Baby-led weaning has not been tested in a randomised control trial and there is insufficient evidence to suggest that it has better long-term feeding outcomes than spoon-fed weaning.

Most of the research suggests that introducing a wide variety of flavours and encouraging lumpy and textured foods as soon as your baby is developmentally ready is the best way to support positive eating behaviours in infancy.

Whatever method or combination of methods you choose, try to relax, have fun and nurture a love for food by allowing your baby to play and explore food at mealtimes.

If you want to discover more professional advice for the weaning journey, discover our nutritionist’s blog here at Babease!

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