By: Kristen Yarker
In a previous post I shared the pros and cons of the pureed and Baby Led Weaning (BLW) methods for introducing your baby to solid foods. If you missed it, you can read it here.
I had a number of people call and email me with questions from that post. So I wanted to clarify and add to the points I shared in it.
In a nutshell, I believe that you shouldn’t feel the need to choose either puree or Bab Led Weaning. Combine the best from both methods and follow your baby’s lead.
Let me explain.
Having taught parents how to introduce solid foods to their babies since 2008, I welcome a number of the contributions that BLW is providing to the baby feeding conversation. However, I’m also seeing some negative effects too.
Feed Your Baby Family Foods
Children from about four to twelve months are fascinated by what the people around them are eating. In BLW you don’t make separate foods for your baby. Instead you provide your baby with the foods that you’re feeding the rest of your family. This is a great strategy! A favorite quote of mine from Child-Feeding Expert Ellyn Satter is:
“The goal of feeding your baby is to have him join you at the table…not for you to join him at the high chair.”
- Uses his curiosity about what everyone’s eating to your advantage. Many babies will reject pureed foods and reach out to grab what’s on other people’s plates.
- Teaches him that by sharing the same foods, he belongs as a member of your family. Sharing food is powerful for human beings. Every culture marks significant occasions by gathering to share food.
- Is less work than making your baby one meal and the rest of your family something completely different. Teaching your baby that she gets something completely different than other family members can lead to picky eating because you’ve set the precedent that she gets something different. Kids who have always eaten the same meal as the rest of the family don’t know that having something different is an option.
- Can be a wake-up call to how healthy (or not) your eating habits are. If you’re eating foods that you’re not willing to feed your baby, should you really be eating them?
Move Along to Finger Foods
Sometimes I see parents who love the idea (and control) of feeding their baby purees so much that they get stuck, keeping their baby in this phase too long. Babies are ready to try finger foods anywhere between six and nine months. Yes, it’s messy. And it can be painful to watch a child clumsily work for 10 minutes to get a single piece of food in his mouth. But, this is an important learning opportunity. Eating is a skill that must be learned through practice. It’s great that you’re an expert at using a spoon to get food into your baby’s mouth. But he needs to have the opportunity to learn how to do it himself. And finger foods are the first step. Because when we’re feeding our babies, we’re actually doing two things: 1) meeting their nutrition needs and 2) teaching eating skills. I’ve seen prolonged spoon-feeding of purees result in babies who are:
- Undernourished because they’re reject being “babied” and reject the spoon.
- Picky eaters because they didn’t get to experience the huge variety of tastes and textures that food comes in while they are still in the food-curious stage. A stage where kids are suspicious of new foods often starts somewhere between 12 to 24 months (although I’ve seen it start at nine months in a number of children). Some people call this stage “food neophobia”. I call it “food-wariness”.
Follow Your Baby’s Lead
BLW places a lot of emphasis on following your baby’s lead regarding how much food to eat. Babies are born knowing when they’re hungry and when they’re satisfied. It’s normal for them to sometimes eat a lot and other times to eat very little. When babies are allowed to control how much food they eat, they have a normal growth pattern. When spoon-feeding your baby it’s very easy to force them to take extra bites by playing games (e.g. “here comes the airplane”), or sneaking in spoonful’s when your baby is distracted. Resisting this urge is important to allow your baby to grow normally and not be overfed (which may lead to obesity).
You Need to Choose
The negative impacts that I’m seeing when speaking with parents and reading Mom blogs and chat boards is the idea that you need to choose a method. You’re either on the puree team or you’re on the Baby Led Weaning team. We already have enough “mommy wars”, judgment, second-guessing ourselves, and guilt regarding breastfeeding and formula feeding. The last thing that we need is this baggage continuing into introducing solid foods.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with pureed foods. In fact, today I’ve eaten oatmeal, yogurt, and butternut squash soup – all of which are purees! Purees are a texture that adults eat too. The warnings that many in the Baby Led Weaning camp attribute to purees actually has nothing to do with purees themselves. They’re just easier traps to fall into when spoon-feeding. But they’re also easily avoidable. For example, you can offer your baby pureed versions of family foods and follow their lead when spoon-feeding.
One Size Fits All
I’ve seen many different babies with different temperaments (personalities). Some love being spoon-fed and take more slowly to finger foods. Others never take anything off a spoon and rely solely on finger foods. I believe that following your baby’s lead and providing a wide variety of tastes and textures is the way to go – including both purees and finger foods.
In summary, why pressure parents into feeling that they need to choose? All the positive contributions that BLW have provided can be realized with the inclusion of both puree and finger foods. Let’s celebrate that there are a multitude of “right” ways to parent!
Kristen is a child feeding expert often referred to as The Dietitian who Transforms Picky Eaters into Food-Confident Kids. She shows families evidence-based strategies to gets kids to try new foods on their own (without negotiations, deception, or being sneaky) to start them along a path to a lifelong LOVE of healthy eating. When she’s not gardening, shopping at a farmers’ markets, cooking or entertaining she’s balancing all her food-related interests by taking her surfboard down off the wall (where’s it’s been collecting dust for almost 10 years) and is getting back in the water. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.