Methods of Introducing Solid Food

When it comes to feeding babies, there are three basic approaches: baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding, and combo feeding. How to feed your baby is a personal decision and will be viewed differently in different cultures. Regardless of which approach you take, aim to have your baby self-feeding finger foods by 9 months old.

Baby-Led Weaning

This approach involves skipping purées and spoon-feeding entirely to let babies self-feed with their fingers from the first bite. Baby-led weaning, or what we call Finger Food First, is gaining international recognition. For a detailed look at this method and how to employ our version of it, hop over to our Finger Food First portal. At a high level, here are some pros and cons of baby-led weaning:

Pros:

  • Independence: Baby learns to eat independently and is in total control.
  • Development: Baby practices critical motor and oral skills.
  • Appetite Control: Baby is in charge of how much to eat and learns to stop when full.
  • Ease: Baby (mostly) eats what you eat. Less special meals!
  • Variety: Baby eats a variety of textures and flavors, which may reduce picky eating later on.
  • Less Expensive: Baby eats real food. No pricey jars, pouches, or blenders required.
  • Family Meals: Baby is part of your family meal, eating with you.
  • Dining Out: It’s easier to eat in restaurants as baby can eat whole food.
  • Success: Babies are more likely to eat what you eat.
  • Fun! Babies enjoy touching, inspecting, and tasting a different flavors and textures.

Cons:

  • Mess: When babies self-feed, it’s monumentally messy!
  • Food Waste: Half-chewed broccoli that lands on the floor is not likely to be saved.
  • Gagging: Baby may gag in the first few weeks, though is less likely to gag later on.

Spoon-Feeding

The traditional approach to feeding babies, where the parent is in total control. Foods served are typically puréed or mashed. Babies who are spoon-fed should be given the opportunity to eat on their own, with their fingers, by 9 months old (at which point you can transition away from spoon-feeding.)

Pros:

  • Clean and tidy: You are in control of feeding and the mess is minimal.
  • Less Time Consuming: You don’t need to cook or buy a lot of ingredients.
  • Less Waste: Most puréed food ends up in baby’s mouth or saved in the jar.

Cons:

  • Dependency: Baby relies on you to eat, which you’ll need to transition away from around 9 months old.
  • Oral development: Baby may have a harder time with textures later on, which can lead to prolonged gagging and preferences for soft food.
  • Appetite Control: Baby has less of an opportunity to learn how to regulate their own appetite and to stop eating when feeling full.
  • Nutrition: It’s easier to over-feed with purées, which can lead to an undesirable decrease in breast or bottle feeds (which are critical until your baby is 12 months old).
  • Picky Eating: Baby has less exposure to a variety of textures, which can lead to preferences for smooth food.
  • Family Meals: Baby does not get to eat what the rest of the family eats and has less of an opportunity to learn by example.
  • Expensive: Puréed baby food costs more per ounce than whole foods.
  • Environmental Impact: Processed baby food tends to have a larger carbon footprint. Pouches in particular are not environmentally friendly as they cannot be recycled.
  • Less Fun. Babies can’t choose among foods, to touch and explore or play.

Combo Feeding

As the name indicates, a combination of spoon-feeding and self-feeding with finger foods. As with exclusive spoon-feeding, babies should be given the opportunity to self-feed by 9 months old to encourage independence.

Pros:

  • Independence: Baby can practice some self-feeding alongside being fed.
  • Less Mess: Not totally messy or totally clean
  • Family Meals: Baby can join you at the table and eat some of what you eat.
  • Development: Baby gets to practice critical motor and oral development skills.
  • Variety: Babies can be exposed to a wide variety of textures and flavors.

Cons:

  • Confusion: Babies may not understand why sometimes they are spoon-fed and sometimes left to self-feed.
  • Appetite Control: Baby has less of an opportunity to learn how to regulate their own appetite and to stop eating when feeling full.
  • Time & Mess: You are required to spoon-feed your child but also have to deal with the mess of some finger foods—a double whammy!

It’s personal.

How to feed and wean your baby is a deeply personal decision, and not all pros and cons are equal in the above lists. While we advocate for approaches that encourage self-feeding with finger foods first, the best thing you can do as a parent or caregiver is to make an informed decision that is best for the needs of your baby and your family.

Ready to begin? Let’s talk safety.