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Baby-led weaning v spoon-feeding your baby

Mum spoon-feeding baby

Spoon-feeding puts you in control of what your baby eats (or at least what makes it into her mouth before she spits it out) but baby-led weaning encourages independence and helps develop coordination. Which method is best for your baby? Or will you combine the two? Here's everything you need to know about both options.

Babies are all different so what works for one baby might not suit another. And come to that, parents are all different too. For some, spoon-feeding is the way to go, while others prefer baby-led weaning (BLW). It’s a case of horses for courses. And who said you have to choose between the two – you can also combine both methods.

The important thing is that your baby is introduced to eating solid foods in ways that are safe and, with any luck, enjoyable for her and for you. Whichever method you settle on, it can be a fascinating adventure to find out what your little one likes to eat.

What is spoon-feeding?

Spoon-feeding is the most popular method of weaning and generally involves feeding your baby puréed or mashed vegetables on a small, soft spoon.

One reason for its popularity is that with spoon-feeding you have a bit more control over how much your baby eats. Parents often feel more ‘secure’ that they know exactly what their baby is eating (a lot of baby-led meals end up on the floor) but at this stage your baby’s main food should still be milk, so it’s not something to worry about for too long.

Similarly, many parents feel they are reducing the risk of choking – a common fear but a very rare occurrence. In fact, there’s some evidence that baby-led eaters get better at chewing food early on and are less likely to choke later as they’ve developed the skills needed for eating properly.

spoon feeding baby weaning

Spoon-feeding is also not as messy as BLW (unless your baby takes particularly strong exception to something) and, of course, your baby will have to get used to using cutlery at some point, so starting with a spoon at six months is no bad thing.

You can also offer your baby a wider range of food on the spoon than you can if you’re just putting it down for them to pick up with the BLW method.

If there’s one drawback with spoon-feeding it’s probably that it can be time-consuming. All that puréeing and mashing can mean you spend plenty of time in the kitchen, preparing food that, let’s face it, might well end up on the floor. There are, though, ways around this, especially as your baby matures and starts to eat similar meals to you and the rest of your family.

If you’re going to spoon feed, you should…

The problem comes when they refuse the spoon! All was going well weaning, then a couple of weeks ago my daughter started clamping her mouth shut at the sight of the spoon – except for breakfast or yogurt!
  • Start by offering your baby only small spoonfuls a few times every day. Slowly increase the amount and frequency.
  • Show your baby the spoon but wait for her to open her mouth before offering it.
  • If she takes to a particular food then stick with it and introduce other foods slowly.
  • If you offer the spoon and she turns away and doesn’t want to eat then leave it. You can always try again later.
  • Let her play with the spoon and, if she likes, let her try feeding herself.

What is baby-led weaning and how does it work?

Baby-led weaning (BLW) means letting your baby feed herself and pick foods from a range of things you put in front of her. It might sound unfeasible, the idea that your baby will simply start feeding themmself, but this method can be surprisingly effective and many parents swear that it’s the best way to introduce your baby to solids.

baby led weaning banana

Some parents try BLW if their baby rejects spoon-feeding and they often find that, when the food is simply placed in front of the baby, she picks it up and tucks in. BLW is particularly popular among parents who have other children, as they find that after seeing their older brothers and sisters feeding themselves, the baby wants to help herself too.

Sometimes, a baby will kickstart the weaning process by making an early grab for the food on their sibling's, or parent's, plate. If your second-born child is weaned on a purloined gingerbread man, know that he will at least not be the first.

Baby-led weaning is thought to reduce the chances of your baby having problems with gagging or chewing later on, as it introduces him to chewing instead of just swallowing purées early in life.

If you’re going to try baby-led weaning, you should…

  • Offer your baby chip-sized finger foods initially. It’s good for her to practise picking these up as it improves her hand-eye coordination and helps to develop her pincer grip.
  • Don’t give her too much – just a couple of pieces at a time, to start.
  • Sit her down with the rest of your family at mealtimes. This makes her part of things and, when she sees the rest of you eating, she might want to join in. I'm a big BLW fan. I don't have to worry about mashing things up or making separate food. I like that the method helped my daughter's coordination and dexterity, and it made me watch and read her feeding cues.
  • Try not to be too strict about three meals a day. The times when she’ll want to eat will vary, especially at first, so follow her lead.
  • Avoid bowls. Put the food down on the highchair tray or table and wait for your baby to try it.
  • Keep expectations low. She might just play with her food but this is all part of the process and, sooner or later, she’ll start eating the food you offer her.
  • Let her get on with it. BLW is good for your baby’s sense of independence, so let her get stuck in at her own pace.
  • Prepare for mess. This applies if you’re spoon-feeding but especially if you’re trying BLW. Make sure your baby is wearing a bib and don’t wear your best white shirt. You could get a splat mat or put down a wipeable table cloth beneath the highchair, too, to save your floor from the worst of it.

What are the drawbacks of baby-led weaning?

Food for the under-ones is just for fun. It doesn't matter if your baby is only playing with his food as long as he's still taking in adequate milk. He is just getting used to flavours and textures.

The Department of Health advises that you should feed your baby from the spoon and offer them finger foods. That way, you get the best of both worlds, as you control what your baby eats via the spoon at the same time as they learn to hold finger food themselves.

Dietitians say it’s important that your baby eats food with a variety of textures, including puréed foods and finger foods, and this is more difficult to provide with BLW.

With baby-led weaning, you could lose track of what your baby is eating, especially if she has a large appetite. Some parents worry that BLW puts their baby at risk of choking. As long as your baby is sitting up straight, this shouldn’t happen, and remember that you should never leave your baby unattended when he’s eating. Check out our first aid advice on choking in babies and children so you're well prepared, just in case.

BLW is messy, so any time you save from not puréeing your baby’s food might be made up in the time you spend picking up toast and mushed sweet potato. Your baby is likely to take pleasure in playing with and throwing around his food. This is to be expected but, if most of his food ends up on the floor, then you have to wonder how many nutrients he’s getting.

If you have questions about BLW, you can bet your last steamed carrot stick you'll find the answer on Mumsnet's weaning forum.

Discuss baby-led weaning with your GP or health visitor if…

  • Your baby was premature.
  • There’s a history of allergies, digestive problems or food intolerance in your family.
  • Your baby has specials needs and has difficulty picking up food, or struggles with coordination or chewing.
Little girl feeding herself

Mumsnetters' experiences with weaning

“I did a mixture of BLW and spoon weaning with my daughter and it worked well. She had cereal or toast for breakfast, finger food at lunch which she fed herself and then purée in the evening.”

“We did BLW because my daughter refused a spoon. She didn't eat a thing until she was eight months, and even then it was tiny amounts! I found it stressful but needn't have worried. She started having a spoon after going to nursery at 12 months, so now we do a mix of spoon and finger food, and she's learning to feed herself with a spoon.”

“Back before someone decided to coin the term 'baby-led weaning', everyone did a combination of purée and finger foods and just got on with it. You can even give the baby the spoon. Don't over think it.”

“I bet most people do a mix of spoon and BLW. I went with purées and finger foods, pretty much from the start of weaning. The finger food occupied her and I spoon fed at same time. Finger food took over within a couple of months or so as she prefered to feed herself, but with some things she still needed help with with a spoon.”