After questioning yourself for weeks is my baby ready to have real food?, the initial doubts give space to the panic. Introducing solids to babies is a big responsibility and the tons of information you find can be overwhelming.
Are you in dilemma between Baby Led Weaning (BLW) or spoon feeding? I have found myself many times among groups of parents standing in these two opposing camps and it hurts me to see how some are made feel inadequate just because they are not ready to embrace the BLW philosophy.
There is a lot of buzzing online about the fact that the method chosen to introduce babies to solids can change their attitude to food throughout childhood (or even adulthood). This is just a myth and one of the reasons that made the feeding-war start.
So here I want to explain to you why there is no need to engage in this dilemma when your baby reaches 6 months. I’ll give you 5 tips to help you find the best method which is unique for you and your baby.
Let’s first clarify the two methods that make moms uncertain when it comes to introducing complementary food at the age of 6 months:
I think that the division into BLW and non-BLW has gone too far. Implying that if you start weaning your baby with puree you will only stick to that path or vice versa.
My question is immediate.
The truth is, these methods are not mutually exclusive and you don’t necessarily have to make up your mind before the baby is 6 months. Both puree
and BLW can boost your baby’s eating skills and contribute to great nutrition
and these can be applied simultaneously.
Surely BLW has become popular in the last years with the promise that your baby will develop a better attitude towards food. Research has associated BLW with the ability of the baby to recognize satiety signals and be less fussy with their food. However, the latest research has found that the magnitude of difference in a toddler's fussiness and food enjoyment is minimal across groups of children that have been weaned with BLW, spoon feeding or a mix of these.
This means that it is not the use of a spoon or finger foods that will determine the baby’s future relationship with food.
It is the attitude we adopt when feeding the baby. Indeed, let me tell you that even feeding a baby puree can be completely “Baby Led” if we adopt the responsive feeding philosophy.
So here comes in the mixed responsive feeding, a method that allows you to understand what suits best your baby and your family in a non-stressful way.
What does mixed mean? It means to embrace spoon-led weaning with the contemporary introduction of finger foods giving the baby the opportunity to explore lots of different tastes and textures. At the same time, it gives you the chance to observe the gradual improvement in your baby’s eating skills and understand what you feel more comfortable with.
What does responsive mean? It means that you go at your baby’s pace and let him lead the way. You embrace the BLW emphasis on letting the baby lead the way with both purees and finger foods.
In this way, responsive feeding goes beyond choosing puree or finger foods. What matters the most is following the baby’s lead!
Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding and babies are to decide how much or whether to eat at all. Your job as a mom is to set a structure when it comes to meals and snacks and allow the child to take the lead from there making decisions for themselves based on whether they are hungry or full. Instead of focusing on the amount, focus on building self-feeding skills and enjoying meal time.
If you are spoon feeding, look for signs of willingness to eat such as when your baby opens their mouth, wants to help you lead the spoon into their mouths and licks their lips. When your baby is all done, they will let you know by turning their head away, spitting out food. Or they may become disinterested or not willing to stay in the chair anymore trying to slide out. This is not the time for playing airplanes and applying pressure!
The same applies to BLW, where parents should trust their baby to know how much food they need at that given feeding opportunity without exerting pressure to eat as much as we feel appropriate.
Responsive feeding should ideally be adopted from birth when the baby only drinks milk. However, it happens often that babies that have been breastfed have a better appetite control that the bottle-fed ones. This is why the introduction of solid foods is a perfect occasion for all babies to be in control of their appetite.
If you are planning to start weaning but you have no idea how read my article The best weaning start. Why you should introduce vegetables first.
Knowing all about the next phase in your child’s development will help you to look out for signs and interpret behaviors in regards to eating. In this way you can approach the weaning journey in a confident and relaxed way maintaining a great feeding relationship.
You may think, from what I said before, that if a baby is hungry they will eat. But this isn’t always the case, indeed, a child that is lacking the skills for the complex task of eating won’t be able to self-feed.
Main milestones to look at when starting solids are oral motor anatomy, readiness for solids, interest in self feeding, readiness for texture upgrades, spoon refusal and striving for independence, readiness for drinking from a cup.
Each child is different. Each child reaches developmental milestones at a different time and has its own ways of learning to eat and enjoying food. Some babies start to show interest in food sooner (already at 5 months) and transition to self-feeding faster, others take their time to transition to finger foods and may not be ready to self-feed successfully at 6, 7 or even 8 months. This is when spoon feeding helps them transition to the independent eating stage with no problem.
Some children are more sensitive to touch and are not ready to touch and bring food to the mouth until they have had enough exposure to it, while other children would grab the food the first time you show it to them. Your baby is unique and so is his eating style.
Comparing your baby to others will only lead you to look for potential downsides and problems where there may be none.
The way babies and children eat depends on a lot of factors, one of these being their interaction with their parents.
Research shows that babies who enjoy the experience of a family meal and do not eat alone do better at trying new foods. Meal times should be opportunities to connect and teach babies about the mechanics and properties of food. Role modelling by parents in a relaxed atmosphere shows to be effective for babies to learn what is food vs objects and to learn how to chew properly.
On the opposite, being anxious and over attentive to a child's eating can lead to conflicts and unhealthy eating habits in the future. Conflicts during meals make a baby emotionally upset or stressed. This will cause an adrenaline rush and lead them to eat less due to the onset of a mechanism that takes the blood away from the gastrointestinal tract and transfers it to the arms and legs.
Creating a convivial and relaxing environment at every meal, from the moment your baby starts weaning, is essential to progress successfully.
A puree with lumps isn’t a good idea when starting solids because eating purees and eating finger foods imply different oral-motor skills and your baby is learning to associate each skill with a type of food. Also, the sensory properties of each of the foods are different and the baby needs to master eating purees and finger foods separately before they can move to the stage of mixed textures and be able to sort pieces out of purees to be chewed.
Before 6 months babies have a back-forward movement of the jaw made for suction so they are not able to move food around their mouth. They develop mature swallowing and chewing movements over time, as they learn the lateral movements of their tongue. Some babies do this faster and some slower.
Not to create confusion in the first stage of weaning, you can offer purees and solids in the same meal but not on the same spoon and not alternating them. Instead you can serve them as a separate course (e.g. first puree and after a finger food).
I hope this post helps clarify at least some of the confusion around starting solids.
If you are worried or tired of spending hours looking for the best strategy to start solids with your baby, schedule a consultation with me to see how I can help.