The months have flown by and your baby is ready to try solid food, but the choices out there can stop you in your tracks.
Do you go for baby-led weaning or the more traditional spoon-fed route? And what do they even mean? In recent years, the baby-led method has become popular with parents who swear by letting their little ones eat at their own pace simply by picking up chunks of food placed in front of them. Meanwhile, others think ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and stick to traditional spoon-feeding by serving their babies puréed foods.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules for navigating this messy, fun and often frustrating time, other than doing what feels right for you and your baby – but, there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there. So, what can you expect from these methods? We spoke to two bloggers who gave us the low-down on what worked for them.
'The spoon-fed method is really working for us'
Steph Douglas, 37, is a mum of three and runs gift company dontbuyherflowers.com. She is giving her eight-month-old, Frank, both spoon-fed and finger food options.
‘When I started feeding Frank, he was so excited. He’d seen his siblings Buster, seven, and Mabel, five, eating and really wanted to join in.
‘I began with cooked veg and was thrilled when he was tucking into curries and casseroles. But the course of true food love never
did run smooth, and about six weeks in, he went off everything for 10 days and just wanted milk. I couldn’t help but worry he’d never eat again, but I think he had teeth coming through.
‘It was this unpredictable nature of babies that first made me anxious about feeding with my older kids. In the first year, it’s often the case that they haven’t slept well or have got a bug. And babies, like adults, are less hungry when they’re under the weather. It’s especially tough for first time mums. You really hope your child will love food, but I think most kids go through a phase where they become fussy. Stay calm and remember it’s unlikely they’ll get to 20 and still only be eating bread and potatoes!
‘I’m definitely far less anxious third time around. As long as they’re getting milk in the first year, it’s not meant to matter how much solid food they have. But it can be hard to remember that when everyone else
is saying how their child loves exotic flavours.
‘The spoon-feeding approach helps me monitor how much food Frank has eaten, and the finger foods encourage him to use his hands and explore, as well as make a ridiculous amount of mess!
‘I’ve learned to relax now. Kids go through phases; they eat when they’re hungry and mixed feeding works for us.’
'baby-led seems to stop fussy eating habits'
Emma Shilton, 35, runs her blog mrsshilts.co.uk. She lives in the Midlands with her husband Greg, 37. She is trying baby-led with her son Freddie, who was born in January this year.
‘When Freddie started reaching for our dinner, I knew it was time to move him onto solids. We’d been bringing him to the table and he wanted to get involved like his older brother Olly, five, so who were we to stop him!
‘When we first had Olly, I was overwhelmed with all the advice. I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, so went for the traditional approach using purées.
‘I do wonder now if this was the best way, though. I didn’t give Olly lots of textures and suspect that’s why he’s such a fussy eater now as he didn’t get used to new things early on. I didn’t want to have another picky little boy, so I thought I’d give baby-led weaning a go – and I have to say it’s really working! Babies are given a variety of foods with different textures and flavours and they pick whatever they fancy from the plate.
‘Rather than me feeding him, Freddie feeds himself. Obviously, I don’t plonk a steak in front of him and let him get on with it, but
I cook his food, cut it up and let him pick what he fancies. He mushes the food up between his fingers then pops it in his mouth! Yes, it’s messy, but really, what six-month-old isn’t?
‘When we first began, I’d boil veg until they were soft; now, whatever Olly has, Freddie will have it too.
‘Other finger foods (not the posh stuff you get at parties!) that are suitable include scrambled eggs, soft fruit and cereal.
‘It’s working for us, but if we’re on the go I’ll use a pouch or jar as they’re so handy. I’m much more relaxed than I was first time round and Freddie now has a really good relationship with food. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it?’
Ask the expert
NHS dietitian and mum of two Lucy Neary blogs at teenyweanies.com and wants to make weaning less daunting. Here she answers the most often asked questions...
Is my baby ready for weaning?
‘The NHS advises to begin weaning at around six months. All babies are different and some may be ready slightly earlier; you should trust your instincts – you know your baby better than a leaflet or book does. There are three things that parents should consider though: Can your baby keep their head steady? This will help them safely swallow food. Do they reach out and purposefully try to grab food? It may be time unless you want chubby little hands all over your dinner. Have they lost their tongue thrust? By this I mean if you put food in their mouth, do they push it back out with their tongue?’
Are finger foods ok?
‘Yes! Along with introducing purées at around six months, you should be offering soft finger foods to help your baby learn to chew. They should be index finger-sized, and with no pips or gristly bits. They need to be things that don’t snap, like broccoli, sweet potato with no peel on, boiled courgettes that have been skinned. Steer clear of sticks of apple, for example, because babies can’t chew and if it snaps in their mouth there’s a risk of it sticking at the back of the throat.’
When do I stop using purées?
‘I meet lots of parents with children who are fussy eaters and one theory is that so many purées are sweetened, even the vegetables, that children aren’t used to the more bitter taste of vegetables or the textures. As soon as you’re happy your baby is swallowing purée really well, they can move onto mashed-up and minced food, often the same food you’re cooking for the whole family.’
Are they eating enough?
‘Parents worry about this all the time, but babies should be fed to their appetite and allowed to stop when full. An average six-to-nine-month-old would eat between two and four tablespoons of food at a meal. Don’t worry if they eat less than usual sometimes. Babies and children regulate their appetite over a week, not just a day or a meal.’