Baby led weaning vs purees: which should I choose for my baby?

By Penelope Henderson, MSc, RNutr/ 07/13/2022
baby being spoon fed on a high chair

When your baby is rapidly approaching 6 months you might be starting to think about whether it would be better for them to be spoon fed or baby led. I know I wasn’t sure which to do and both spoon feeding and baby led weaning appealed for different reasons. 

You might be wondering if one method is better for your baby than the other, is one easier to do than the other, can you be spoon fed as well as baby-led? This blog will help answer these questions so you can make your own mind up on which is best for you and your baby. Or you can even choose them both!

If you want a podcast to listen to rather tthan read the full blog. Then check it out here> Episode 6: Spoon fed or baby led: which should I choose for my baby?

What is spoon feeding?

Image of baby being spoon fed

Spoon feeding simply means ‘feed with a spoon’ so the parent will feed the baby with a spoonful of pureed or mashed food directly to the baby’s mouth. You then progress through the different stages of weaning, increasing the lumpy texture until they begin to eat family meals. 

It can also be referred to as the traditional method of weaning as baby led weaning is more of a recent way to feed. Its important to note that you shouldn’t exclude giving finger foods

So there are many pros and cons to spoon feeding. They are given below to help you decide which may be best for you and your baby.

Pros of spoon fed

  • There is less mess as food is given by parent on a spoon to begin with.
  • There is less anxiety around choking
  • It is easier to know how much food they have eaten as there won’t be wasted food thrown on the floor!
  • Its usually quicker than baby led as you are controlling the speed by feeding them directly to their mouths.

Cons of spoon fed

  • There is no independence in feeding so they can’t self regulate their food intake and it may be easier to overfeed them.
  • It is more time consuming preparing purees and baby food
  • You need to ensure that you introduce new textures at the right time and move through the stages of weaning otherwise they can have a dislike for lumps. 
  • They may not progress through their developmental skills as quickly.
Pros and cons of spoon feeding

Fresh vs convenience baby foods

Convenience baby foods are those ready made baby foods found in jars, pouches or packets bought from a shop. They are usually ambient so it is easy to transport them around. You don’t have to make them as they are ready made, they are already portioned out and ready to feed straight from the container.

Convenience baby food that can be used to spoon feed

However, there are alot of disadvantages to using convenience baby foods:

  • They are more expensive than making your own
  • They dont let your baby get used to home cooked food so when you introduce them later on it may be more difficult
  • Nutritional quality is not always as favourable as home cooked foods.

What is Baby led weaning?

Baby led weaning is giving a selection of solid foods in appropriate size pieces and letting them feed themselves without help or limited help. It allows them to be in charge of how much they want to eat if at all. 

It  starts with softer finger size pieces of food that they can easily hold instead of a spoon. 

Baby led weaning
Baby led weaning

Finger foods should pass the “squish” test when you press them between your fingers. This means that they squish easily when grasped with a hand. 

When can I start baby-led weaning?

You can start the same age as spoon feeding which is 6 months old (1)

There is an increased risk of choking but you can prepare yourself for this by understanding the differences between gagging and choking.

Advantages of baby led weaning

  • It promotes independence and hand- eye coordination by feeding themselves.
  • They have the chance to pick foods up when they are ready and explore them through touch as well as taste, so exposing them to different textures.
  • Food can be offered with the whole family so using some of the same foods and eating together.
  • No extra food preparation required only to cut into the appropriate sized pieces to handle.
  • They may gain wider food exposure.
  • As they are feeding themselves they should be responding to their internal cues and only eating what they need/stopping when they are full.
  • They may be less fussy about foods when they grow older if they are baby led fed as opposed to spoon fed but not by that much according to some evidence (2)
  • It’s easier to eat out as you don’t have to worry about taking food with you and your baby can join in the meal with the rest of the family.

Disadvantages of baby led weaning

  • The risk of choking, which can make you more anxious.
  • Can be messier.
  • Parents are often concerned that their baby isn’t getting the right nutrients or getting such a varied diet. 
  • Parents have less control over how much they are eating

Do you spoon feed in baby led weaning?

Yes you can spoon feed in baby led weaning. Or just combine the two to do how much works for you. It is good to introduce some finger foods (baby led weaning) alongside spoon feeding so they can develop self feeding. (3)

What are the benefits of combining spoon feeding and baby led weaning?

  • Its more convenient and flexible, so you have options to use purees when out and about to make it more convenient.
  • It offers a wider variety of foods as some foods are more easily eaten in puree form and some as solid.
  • By using both methods you can ensure your baby is getting the right nutrition they need to grow and thrive.

How do I combine spoon feeding and baby led weaning?

If you choose to combine spoon feeding with baby led then if you think of foods you serve wet and soft like breakfast cereals, fruit purees and yoghurts then you serve these with a spoon.

Then more solid foods would be served solid but soft to begin with. For example soft or cooked pieces of fruit and vegetables, cooked pasta, soft cheese and other examples see here.

Finger foods
Finger foods

If your child was struggling with some solid textures to begin with it takes a bit of time to adjust otherwise you could mash them up. 

If they are showing a preference for finger foods then you could offer a bit more of these. Just make sure they are having more finger foods from 7 – 8mths. 

Its a good idea to have a balance of both spoon fed and baby led at each meal, this allows opportunity for both methods and they won’t get so confused. So for example, doing this with different courses could be a pureed/soft breakfast cereal like porridge followed by some finger foods of fruit.

Is baby led weaning better than spoon feeding?

One method is not better than the other. It is really a preference and seeing which suits your baby and you best. There is no one size fits all approach. You may find your baby prefers one method and is happy to stick with that. 

Or it may be the case that you do spoon feeding and baby led weaning together. Once you have decided on the method it may be that your thinking about possible allergenic foods and if these could cause a reaction.

When should I introduce allergens?

You can introduce allergenic foods like peanuts and eggs from 6 months or when starting solid foods. If your baby may be higher risk and If your not sure when and how to introduce them then I have the perfect guide for you. Go check it out here. How to introduce allergenic foods to your baby

Conclusion

Deciding whether your baby should be spoon fed or baby led is really up to you and which you consider best for you and your baby. There’s no right or wrong way and you can do a mixture of the two if you prefer. 

The most important thing with feeding is to learn to be responsive to their needs. So looking for cues when they are hungry and when they have had enough to eat (fullness). Responding appropriately to these cues will ensure that this leads to healthy eating habits and a good relationship with food. 

If you have started weaning, but you are looking for more support and guidance then I offer a free clarity call to see how I can help. Click on the button below to get started.

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MEET THE AUTHOR
Author Penelope Henderson

Hi I’m Penelope Henderson RNutr Registered Nutritionist specialising in children’s nutrition and responsive feeding therapy.

I am a mum of 2, with over 15 years of experience in nutrition. I support parents to feel confident in how and what to feed their child. I hope you find my recipes and nutrition posts useful, so you can enjoy stress free cooking and mealtimes.

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