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Baby Led Weaning vs Spoon Feeding: which is best?

Two Dietitians tell the truth on the absolute best way to start baby on solid food! The answer may surprise you.
Baby sitting in a high chair with a piece of finger food in front of her.

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It’s the greatest showdown in baby history:

To do baby led weaning and start with pieces of food a baby can pick up?

Or start with purées to spoon fed the baby?

Which is best? Let’s settle this once and for all! A fight to the end!

Well, the truth is…. as with most things in nutrition, this isn’t a black and white answer.

As I recently told a client: “there isn’t ONE right way to feed your baby!”

Then I corrected myself:

“No wait, there IS one right way… but it has absolutely nothing to do with baby led weaning or spoon feeding purées.”

The right way to feed your baby is to feed responsively.

Only one feeding rule: be responsive to your baby

You heard me. The important thing is to remain flexible and responsive to your baby’s needs.

One way of feeding is not superior over the other. The most recent studies show that health outcomes with either method are fairly equal.

There are pros and cons to each, and each baby is unique. What’s best for one baby may not be best for the next one, even between siblings or twins!

At 6 months, most babies have reached the development stage when they can feed themselves. But remember that there are variations in normal development milestones and developmental delays. When did your baby get their first tooth? When did your baby take their first step? When did your baby roll over?

With my first son, baby led weaning had just recently come on the scene and I wasn’t convinced it was such a good idea. There was no research one way or the other! I started him on purees and intentionally kept challenging him with a texture progression from super smooth to chunky to minced to pieces. It all went very well.

When it came time to start solids with my second there was already an explosion of interest in baby led weaning and some published research to demonstrate its safety.

So, I decided to give it a go! I was excited to try something different the second time around. He definitely enjoyed holding and gnawing on the pieces of food I gave him but I could tell he was also frustrated. One day I cut some of his food into smaller pieces to see if he enjoyed palming them into his mouth (he hadn’t yet developed the pincer grasp). But he was frustrated with that as well. I picked up one of the little pieces of food off his tray and he immediately reached for my hand and brought it to his mouth! We figured out a system! He was frustrated with his inability to get enough to eat on his own. He was so happy when I helped him.

Conversely, sometimes I’ll see parents keep their babies on purees for far too long! Babies need to be challenged.

Find a balance: help your baby but challenge as well

Babies are doing a LOT of work learning how to eat! We need to find the right balance of helping them and challenging them.

Think about another skill your child will need to learn: reading. Would it be fair to them to just let them figure it out all on their own? Everyone learns to read eventually, right? Or, what if you just kept them at the same level and never challenged them with more difficult reading material?

It’s important not to let our ideology get in the way of what our children need to help them thrive.

When done safely, baby led weaning is an exciting and legitimate way to feed a baby. But it’s not the be all and end all of infant feeding. There’s a lot of pressure nowadays for parents to hop on this cool “new” way to feed their babies. But not every parent is going to feel comfortable with it and they shouldn’t feel shamed or lesser than or “uncool” if they want to go the more traditional route.

When parents feed responsively, spoon feeding purées and gradually challenging a baby with textures is also a legitimate way to feed a baby!

And guess what? Using a combination of BOTH methods is also okay! There are zero scientific or even logical reasons why this would be a dangerous practice.

The Happy Healthy Eaters method

In fact, this is our preferred method, and what we teach as the Happy Healthy Eaters method! We love combining the best of both worlds (baby led weaning and purees) so that baby can both be challenged developmentally AND have the full opportunity to get all they need nutritionally.

Bottom line: as caregivers we need to provide opportunities for our babies to progress developmentally and ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need to grow!

If you’re feeling uncertain about HOW you want to feed your baby and want some more guidance, we walk you through the pros and cons of each feeding method on our e-course, Start Solids Confidently to help you determine what would be best for your baby and your family’s situation!

jess and nita, registered dietitians
Meet Jess and Nita

Hi! We’re both Dietitians & boy mamas! We’re here to help you confidently raise kids who will grow up to be lifelong Happy Healthy Eaters. Dig into our site for kid-tested recipes & feeding tips. 

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