Baby-led weaning vs purees? Are you feeling conflicted about how to begin introducing those first foods to your baby? Should you start with baby-led weaning or begin by spoon-feeding purees? There can be a lot of pressure on new parents to do what is best for your baby and two very different approaches to choose from. Truthfully, we all want to do what is best for our baby, there is not a right way there are just different ways to go about introducing solids. The good news is that YOU get to decide how YOU want to feed your baby. The main goal with beginning solids is to offer a wide variety of foods to give our babies opportunities to experience a variety of textures and flavors.
My background is in Montessori education. I am a trained Montessori guide but currently staying at home with our identical twin boys. When I was deciding how to introduce solid foods to my twins I looked at it through the lens of the developmental needs of babies. I took what I know about child development and then compared how having my baby self-feed vs the more traditional approach of spoon-feeding aligns with Montessori philosophy and what I want for my children.
In this article I will share with you an overview of where these feeding practices have come from, the benefits to each and how it all ties back to the specific developmental needs of your baby. In the end you will need to decide the best way to offer solid foods to your baby that is best for your them and the rest of the family!
When can I begin Solid Foods?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having only breast milk or formula for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months of age, if your baby is showing the signs of readiness, you may begin introducing solid foods though either the blw method or spoon-feeding purees. You may also consider a combined approach of introducing new food to your baby!
Here are the signs of readiness for beginning solid foods according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is important that your baby is showing these signs of readiness before beginning solids.
- Able to sit on their own relatively well without support and good head control
- Showing an interest in food by opening their mouth when food comes towards them
- Your baby is big enough – at least doubled their birth weight (13 pounds or more)
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning is an approach to introducing foods beginning with soft finger foods. This approach doesn’t mean your baby won’t eat purred foods, but it means you wouldn’t puree a food that would typically be given another way. For example, yogurt and applesauce are purees and are a important texture for your baby to experience. The baby-led approach puts the child in the driver seat in regards to what pieces of food go in their mouth and which ones don’t! When beginning baby-led weaning it can be challenging to know if your baby is getting enough food, but just remember that the majority of their nutrition is still coming from breast milk or formula.
History of Baby-Led Weaning
In recent years baby-led weaning has become a hot topic of conversation. The term Baby-Led Weaning was coined by Gill Rapley in 2005. In her book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods―and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater she talks about how babies are able to join in family mealtimes and discover food for themselves. She claims the blw approach will develop your baby’s hand-eye coordination as well as help them to love a wider variety of foods. It is my personal opinion that this is true! My babies loved the experience of eating broccoli. They were able to hold on to the trunk of the veggie and enjoy an exciting texture. Would a broccoli puree been the same positive experience? I doubt it!
History of the Traditional Spoon-Feeding Method
I was spoon fed, odds are you were too. The traditional method of spoon-feeding is an approach where you puree cooked foods into thin purees, then thicker purees eventually transitioning into small cut pieces. Around 1 year of age offering soft finger foods. The adult loads the spoon and puts the food into the baby’s mouth.
Pros of Baby-Led Weaning
- Offers a variety of different textures
- May reduce picky eating
- Shows your baby food based in reality (A Montessori idea but an important factor for me. For example, broccoli doesn’t look like a bowl of green mush, it actually has a variety of textures)
- Develops oral motor skills
- Develops hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills
- Baby learns to feed independently
- Cheaper – not spending money on traditional baby food
Pros of Traditional Spoon Feeding Pureed Foods
- You know how much your baby is consuming
- Less messy than BLW
- Convenient when out and about
- Able to make homemade baby food
The importance of Responsive Feeding Practices
Responsive feeding is a process of being aware of your baby’s hunger and fullness cues. We want our babies to have a positive experience with solids, whether that is through a blw approach or through spoon-fed purees. We help create this positive experience by closely following our baby’s cues and knowing our baby’s needs.
When they are hungry they will bring food to their mouth or open their mouth. Another sign of hunger is reaching or pointing to food. Babies also have ways of showing that they are full or no longer interested. This video about responsive feeding by the American Academy of Pediatrics states “we provide, they decide”. I love this phrase as I think it applies so perfectly with both of these feeding approaches. We will offer small amounts of food and our baby will decide what they eat.
It is important that we trust the signs our baby is showing us and respect their cues. I have been amazed at how clearly my babies can communicate even without words. Sometimes my babies show me they are done eating sooner than I thought. They may drop their spoon, turn their head away or push the food away. I can respect that and try feeding again at a different time.
How to do a Combination Approach
A combination approach would be offering both purees and soft foods for the baby to self feed. Katie Ferraro, a registered dietitian and mom of 7 who specializing in baby-led weaning teaches a “purees for a few days” approach. You may also consider spoon-feeding purees but instead of you putting the food in your baby’s mouth you can offer them a pre-loaded spoon. This is a way that allows your baby to self feed by putting the food in their own mouth. This is a great way to respect your baby’s need for independence as much as they are able.
What About the Risk of Choking?
Choking is probably one of the number one concerns when it comes to baby-led weaning. It is important to understand the difference between choking and gagging; knowing the difference can help you recognize when your baby is simply learning how to eat and when you would need to step in. This article explains gagging vs. choking. It provides great examples as well as signs of choking vs. gagging. While it is scary to see our baby struggling with new textures by gagging, it is part of the learning process. Expecting our children to eat food without gagging is like expecting a child to walk without stumbling. Overtime they will develop more skills around eating.
The best way to reduce the risk of choking is by offering safely prepared food to our baby. The Solid Starts app is a super helpful way to know how to prepare essentially any food and make it safe for your baby to self-feed! It is a also a good idea to take a class on infant and child CPR.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best first foods?
We want to offer our baby a wide variety food. It is important to provide iron-rich food such as red meat, egg yokes and green leafy vegetables. Some first foods I have enjoyed giving my boys are: bananas, avocado, sweet potato, chicken drumsticks and tomatoes.
When do I drop Milk Feeds with the BLW approach?
Dropping milk feeds will happen gradually. For the first 2 months of baby led weaning your baby will not be eating enough food to drop a milk feed. The majority of their nutrition is still coming from breast milk or formula. Keep following your baby’s hunger cues.
Why is baby-led weaning better than purees?
You need to decide what is best for your baby. I would argue that there are more benefits to baby-led weaning than following a strictly puree method, but for many years babies were spoon fed purees and turned out just fine!
Do you skip purees with BLW?
No, purees are part of BLW. The rule of thumb would be to not puree a food that is commonly served another way, but foods like applesauce, yogurt and thin soups are in their nature a puree. Purees are a textures that your baby needs to experience, just like the many other textures for them to try!
What is the difference between baby purees and BLW?
A baby puree is a smooth but thicker liquid made by blending soft food. You can also purchase baby purees from the store. Whereas BLW is an approach where you introduce soft finger foods to your baby first.
My Experience Doing BLW with Twins (A Montessori Perspective)
For me baby led weaning was the approach I chose to take with my twins and here is why. This includes using a pre-loaded spoon for foods that are naturally pureed or difficult for a baby to self feed by holding in their hand. These are 3 Montessori principles that helped me decide what feeding method to use.
- Freedom to choose: In Montessori we want to give our children opportunities to choose. Baby-led weaning offers babies a choice in what they are going to eat and how much. We are preparing the food, much like I prepare an environment, and then we give them the freedom to choose.
- Exploration: Babies love to explore and need opportunities to explore. Babies explore by putting things in their mouths! It made sense to me then to offer my baby a variety of textures in the form of food for them to explore with their hands and mouths. The ability to explore textures just isn’t present when doing a puree only approach.
- Independence: In the book “The Montessori Baby” by Simone Davis, she says “we can support them by giving them as little help as possible and as much as necessary.” My babies at 6 months old are capable of holding a spoon and large pieces of soft food. They instinctually bring the food to their mouths. They do not need my help with this; they can do this independently.
So for me, a self-feeding approach lined up with my understanding of Montessori and child development as well as the family culture I want to foster in my home. You will need to decide what method is right for you, taking into consideration the needs of your baby. Did I peek your interest in Montessori? If so, I’d love for you to check out more on my blog!