Starting solids: spoon-fed or baby-led?

If your baby is showing signs that they’re ready to start solids, you may be wondering: so, where exactly do I start? When did feeding a baby become so complicated! Do a quick search on social media for baby food recipes or ideas, and you’ll be overwhelmed with endless accounts dedicated to beautifully-presented mini meals and feeding approaches.

We know you’ve got enough to think about, and decisions to make, so we’ll break it all down into small, digestible chunks of information, so that you can make up your own mind about how you’re going to feed your baby. It’s your baby, your decision. There isn’t (or shouldn’t) be a one-size-fits-all or indeed an all-or-nothing approach.

Starting solids: spoon-fed or baby-led?

Wading through all of the advice on the best way to feed a baby, you would have noticed the terms that apply to two different approaches: ‘traditional spoon-feeding’ and ‘baby-led weaning’.

The traditional spoon-feeding method is when babies are offered their first tastes of pureed food via a spoon, and then the texture of the food is gradually increased as the baby is able to manage it. The baby-led weaning method bypasses the purees and spoon feeding in favour of finger foods that a baby self-feeds.

Let’s look at the pros and cons for each feeding approach before we explore a third option…perhaps you don’t have to just choose one approach!

Pros of the traditional spoon-feeding method

  • Because you’re in control (mostly!), it can be a clean and neat way of feeding.
  • Most of it ends up in your baby’s mouth rather than on the floor, so there’s less waste.
  • Easy to prepare ahead of time and freeze in bulk.

Cons of the traditional spoon-feeding method

  • Baby has less ability to regulate their appetite, and stop eating when they’re full.
  • Your baby relies on you to feed them.
  • They aren’t eating the same meals as the family, so they have less of an opportunity to learn by example.
  • It can be easier to overfeed with purees, which may impact their milk intake.
  • Due to less exposure to textures, a baby may have a preference for soft foods.
  • Unless you make your own, commercial baby food can be costly.
  • Baby has less opportunity to explore their food with all of their senses.

Pros of the baby-led weaning method

  • A self-feeding baby learns to eat independently and is in control of what goes in their mouth.
  • Baby is part of family meals, so you don’t have to prepare separate meals.
  • They can regulate their appetite, and stop when they’re full.
  • Your baby gets to practice important motor and oral skills (crucial for speech development).
  • It’s convenient when you eat at restaurants together – no need to bring anything special.
  • Because your baby is exposed to a wide variety of textures, it may help to reduce picky eating later on.
  • Cuts down the costs because you won’t buy commercial food.
  • Your baby will have fun exploring their food with all of their senses.

Cons of the baby-led weaning method

  • It’s very messy when babies feed themselves (so, that’s just a con for you).
  • There can be some wastage when food is thrown onto the floor or walls.
  • A baby may gag early on, but is less likely to after the first few weeks.

I can’t decide on a feeding method. Can I offer my baby a combination?

Yes! There’s no need to follow any arbitrary rules for feeding your baby. You might find in particular if you join any BLW (baby-led weaning) groups, there’s a host of rigid rules that parents must adhere to. They often claim that you shouldn’t combine finger foods with pureed foods due to an increased risk of choking. There is NO evidence to support this advice.

You can simply spoon-feed your baby purees as they feed themself some finger foods. You can combine both at some meals, and only do purees or just offer finger foods at others. The choice is yours, so the combination approach provides plenty of flexibility in the first few months of starting solids. By about 9 months, your baby will be starting to onlyfeed themselves independently anyway.

Pros of the combination feeding approach

  • Your baby gets to practice independent feeding while simultaneously being fed.
  • Your baby gets to practice critical oral and motor development skills.
  • Your baby can eat some of what the family eats, so they can join you at the table for family meals.
  • Your baby is exposed to a wide variety of tastes and textures.
  • Purees have a place in all diets anyway – think about soups, stews, smoothies, and porridge, for some examples.
  • Your baby will start to master independently spoon-feeding – a good skill to have.
  • See all of the pros for each feeding approach (above).

Cons of the combination feeding approach

  • Your baby might be confused why sometimes they are spoon-fed and sometimes expected to self-feed.
  • You will need to think of preparing both purees and finger foods.
  • See all of the cons for each feeding approach (above).

Which approach is the best/recommended by feeding experts and dietitians?

Whilst many experts advocate for self-feeding by around 9 months, the decision is ultimately yours and your baby’s. The best thing you can do is make an informed decision that suits your family’s needs, and see what works best. Happy mealtimes!


X click to search