There are three approaches to weaning, the more traditional spoon/puree method, baby-led weaning (BLW) which has gained in popularity over the last 10 years, or a combination of the two.
It is important to remember that regardless of the approach you choose, the end result will be a baby that has successfully transitioned from milk to solid food as their main source of nutrition. Therefore, the right approach for you is the one that is most suitable for you and your baby.
It is also important to mention that you might not have a choice in the matter. Some babies reject the spoon and want to feed themselves from a very early age. This happened with my eldest child and while all my friends were happily feeding their babies purees from a spoon, we were preparing a range of fingers foods and clearing up a lot of mess after each meal. This didn’t bother me, but for others the mess can be off-putting. Babies will respond to the weaning process differently so try not to worry if your weaning experience is different to that of your friend’s, neighbour’s or relative’s baby.
What are the main differences between the spoon/puree and BLW approaches?
The spoon/puree approach is starting off with the smoothest purees at around 6 months. The parent/carer is responsible for delivering the purees to the baby via a rubber-tipped spoon. The idea is that you gradually introduce texture when your baby is ready e.g. purees, to mashed foods to lumpy foods to solid foods. Introducing texture is really important as it allows your baby to start eating a wide variety of foods as per the rest of the family. Research also shows that the introduction of texture earlier rather than later is associated with higher dietary variety and more willingness to accept foods (1).
BLW allows infants to self-feed foods that you are serving the rest of the family and it allows your baby to set the pace and level of food intake (2,3). The benefits of this include the promotion of healthy eating behaviours by putting your baby in charge of satisfying their own hunger. It also allows your baby to cope with a wide variety of textures and more solid, finger foods too. However, it can be messy and more time consuming than preparing purees. It can also be difficult to track exactly what your baby has eaten.
What are the benefits of a mixed approach?
As I mentioned previously, the approach you adopt to wean your baby is entirely up to you. If you adopt a mixed approach, you can start your baby off on purees but also include finger food options from around 7 months so that they have the opportunity to try more solid foods. This will encourage your baby to try a variety of foods and it has the added bonus of helping to teach your baby how to take food from a spoon and to eat runnier foods that include lumps. In the early days of weaning, a mixed approach provides a gentle transition to solid food.
What counts as finger food?
Finger food options include:
• Soft, ideally steamed vegetables (e.g. broccoli, carrot sticks, courgettes, sweet potato, green beans)
• Toast soldiers with avocado, peanut butter
• Omelette with a chopped up frozen spinach or grated courgette, sprinkle of cheese
• Soft cooked pasta
• Soft ripe fruit e.g. banana, peach, melon & mango
• Mini fish cakes, chicken, beef or lamb patties
Until your baby has mastered the pincer group at around 8 months these may well be picked up using their fists rather than their fingers. Remember, your baby will find it much easier to pick up larger pieces of fruit/vegetable rather than bite-sized pieces.
Before you give your baby finger foods always wash their hands but leave the rest of the clean up until they are finished e.g. don’t keep wiping them clean every few minutes as this can lead to a fear of mess. This stage is all about experimenting and exploring rather than being clean and tidy!
When should I start?
Just as a reminder, the government guidelines recommend that weaning should begin at around 6 months (1). At this time your baby’s iron stores are starting to deplete, and they are no longer able to get all the nutrition (including energy) they need from formula or breast milk (1). Some people do start earlier than 6 months but don’t feel like you have to start because everyone around you is starting their baby’s weaning journey.
It is very important that before you begin weaning your baby should be able to (1):
• Sit upright in a highchair (with/without cushion support) and hold their head steady
• Have some control of their hand eye coordination to enable them to bring food to their mouths
• Swallow (i.e. tongue thrust has disappeared and able to move it from side-to-side as well as forwards and backwards).
You should also have a ‘window’ of time to dedicate to the initial phase of weaning and perhaps bring it forward or delay it during a really hectic time or when you are due to be on holiday.
One final piece of advice
While you are busy feeding your baby, also remember that your own nutrition is important too. Try and eat regular meals with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Keep your energy up and your immune system functioning properly!
This post was written by Rebecca Stevens (BSc, MSc) a registered Associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition. Rebecca supports women to eat healthily at all stages of life and runs weaning workshops to help guide mums at the beginning of their baby's weaning journey. More details can be accessed on Instagram @nourishnurturenutrition or via her website here.
1. SACN (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/feeding-in-the-first-year-of-life-sacn-report
2. Brown, A., Jones, S.W. & Rowan, H. Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date. Curr Nutr Rep 6, 148–156 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-017-0201-2
3. Rapley G, Murkett T. Baby-led weaning: Helping your baby to love good food. Random House; 2008.
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