Can Baby-Led Weaning and Spoon Feeding Be Practiced Simultaneously?
The short answer… yes! And here’s why…
As long as both feeding methods place priority on honouring baby’s hunger and satiety cues, Baby-Led Weaning and spoon feeding can co-exist.
Gill Rapley first coined the term Baby-Led Weaning, which is about more than just offering your baby food to pick up – it’s about trusting him to know what your baby needs and eat accordingly. If you’re topping your baby up with purees via spoon or pouch after they’ve had a chance to try with their hands, then you’re not really doing that. In other words, trusting your baby to know how much and what to eat from their tray is not the same as not trusting them to do so. So, while letting your baby self-feed and then doing some spoon feeding too might be what’s best for you and your baby (as it was for me and my family!), it’s not true “baby-led weaning”. I would argue though, that you can still practice “baby-led feeding” when you include purees via spoon or pouch, as long as you’re feeding responsively and watching carefully for baby’s cues.
Because of this discrepancy, we’ll refer to this hybrid version of starting solids and feeding as “baby-led feeding” or “responsive feeding” (vs. baby-led weaning) throughout the post.
According to the latest Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants, children (and caregivers) should practice “responsive feeding”, which promotes the development of healthy eating skills through feeding. So how exactly do we do this? I’ve highlighted the three main points below. It’s easier than you think!
Feed your child according to their hunger and satiety cues. This point seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised! Parents often struggle with this concept because they are often out of tune with their own hunger and satiety cues. In fact, we should take a page from our baby’s book—little ones are naturally intuitive eaters. This means they know when they’re hungry and when they’re full and they don’t eat for emotional reasons (unlike us adults). Babies will let you know when they’re hungry – they’ll will become slightly fussy and put their tiny fists in their mouths or try to grab food that you have in your hand.
I suggest feeding your baby when you would sit down and eat as a family, scheduling milk feeds in between. Starting with one meal (in addition to milk feeds), gradually adding another one, and then the third, slowly and gradually decreasing the amount of breastmilk or formula given. By 12 months your little one should be eating real food about every two to three hours—meals and snacks in between. Breastfeeding can continue as long as mom and baby would like.
This allows babies to feel slightly hungry (not famished) by the time an eating opportunity arises. At mealtime, simply offer food and let them decide if, how much and at what pace they eat. Don’t ever place food into your baby’s mouth, especially when it comes to finger foods. In fact, this can be a choking risk (babies intuitively know how and when to put food in their mouths. And honestly – they will stop when they’re full.
For spoon-fed babies, make sure you’re still feeding your baby responsively, letting them help you to lead the spoon into their mouth and never forcing the spoon into their mouth or “coaxing them” to open up. Signs of readiness to eat include opening their mouths, guiding the spoon, smacking lips… you get the picture. When baby is done, they will either push away the spoon, spit food out, turn their head or get distracted start playing! If you’re practicing BLW, then all you have to do is place soft and safe finger foods in front of your baby and watch them experience and consume the food (without pressuring or hovering). When they stop feeding themselves, they’re done!
Offer finger foods as a tool to practice self-feeding. All babies should be offered finger foods, whether they are fed via BLW or traditionally. Babies that are following the principles of BLW generally have more practice than those offered a spoon all of the time, as they start with their hands from the beginning. Spoon-fed babies will have the opportunity to practice self-feeding, but this usually comes later, unless of course you practice both simultaneously, which I did with my three babies. Self-feeding is important for all babies as it promotes oral and motor skill development, dexterity, and self-regulation.
Encourage the use of an open cup. Babies are messy. I get it. But they also need to practice and develop their oral motor skills. Babies who only use a sippy cup often lack the skills to use an open cup and are at risk for excess calorie intake, dental issues and obesity in childhood. So, when home or sitting down for a meal it is important to offer water in an open cup. Younger babies will need guidance, while older babies can practice (with lots spills) independently. When on the go and looking for a spill proof alternative try a straw sippy cup!
Bottom line: do what works best for you and your baby, but remember to follow your babies’ lead! Always feed responsively, and make sure to introduce a variety of tastes and textures--including safe finger food—by about eight or nine months of age.