Getting started with spoon feeding – an expert guide

Baby-led weaning is a great feeding approach for many families, but it doesn’t fit everyone. If that’s you and your bub, you might choose the traditional spoon-feeding route.

If this is a whole new world for you, you’re probably wondering what to start your baby on, how much, and when to offer it. But, the one thing that often gets overlooked is how to actually do it from a developmental and motor skill perspective.

We’ve pulled together a list of tips from the experts, including the World Health Organisation, paediatric dietitians, occupational therapists, and feeding therapists, so you’ll be well-equipped when you get started on your baby’s exciting and messy eating journey.

Getting started with spoon feeding – an expert guide

Start at the right time – not too early

The World Health Organisation recommends that all infants should start receiving solid foods in addition to breastmilk or formula from six months onwards. Some parents interpret this as meaning more ‘whole’ solid foods, and that purees should be started earlier.

Solids or ‘complementary foods’ means anything other than breastmilk or infant formula. Starting too soon may cause tummy problems, so watch for their cues that they’re ready.

Typically, a baby’s gut and immune system is more ready for food around 6 months, and when a baby is showing signs of readiness, which can be before 6 months or after. Read Is my baby ready to start solids?

Let your baby guide the feeding process

This first stage is important in setting up the foundations for healthy and happy eating. It’s vital that as caregivers, we don’t trick, force, bribe, or hold a baby’s hands to get a spoonful in. Doing so can lead to aversions or fear of eating. Rather, we need to be responsive and watch their cues.

Instead, offer food when your baby is calm and not tired. Go slowly, and give your baby time to try new foods, move it around their mouth, and to learn to listen to their own fullness cues. When your baby signals that they’re done, they’re done. There’s no need to finish the bowl or jar.

If your baby doesn’t seem to like a particular food, there’s no need to keep forcing it. Offer it again next time (it may take at least 20 exposures for them to enjoy it).

If your baby is reaching for the spoon, celebrate this important developmental milestone rather than pushing their hands away. This is one of the first steps to independent eating. Let them give it a go, even if it ends in a mess. A good tip is to have a spoon each, so they can practice as well.

Learn about the mechanics of spoon feeding

Most of us tend to stick spoonfuls of food into a baby’s mouth, and quickly scrape it on the top lip or roof of their mouth. This makes them an inactive participant in the process, and it doesn’t teach them where food needs to go in their mouth.

Instead, hold the spoon about 30 centimeters from your baby’s face, and let them notice the spoon and open their mouth. Similar to paced bottle feeding, this method allows your baby to be in control of how much food they eat, and whether they eat something at all.

Let your baby lean towards the spoon, and remove the food themselves with their lip. This will take time to master, so don’t expect it will happen from the first meal. Patience is key!

Refrain from scraping your baby’s face with the spoon. Gently wipe it with a cloth at the end of the meal. Read about The importance of messy play for babies starting solids.

Gradually increase textures when your baby is ready

It’s natural to be concerned about choking, but it’s important not to stay on purees too long. Typically, a baby is on smooth purees first, then moves onto thicker purees, followed by mashed foods.

From six months, your baby can also eat finger foods alongside their purees if you and your baby choose to. Here are our Tips for combining purees and finger foods.

Ensure that purees are offered from a bowl, rather than a pouch (except for in emergencies). This ensures that your baby is fully engaged in the feeding experience, and importantly, helps them to see, touch, and smell their food. Babies eat with all of their senses!

Best first foods to offer

There is no particular order in which to introduce solid foods, but a great place to start is pureed vegetables, fruit, and iron-rich foods. Infants should also be offered common food allergens in the first year of life.

Here is our list of foods to avoid in the first year, including hard foods, honey, salt, and juice.

Finally, by 12 months, your child should be eating family meals, and feeding themselves independently. Happy feeding journey with your little one!

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