New Study: Is Finger Food Better for Babies than Spoon-Feeding?

A new study raises interesting questions about how parents introduce babies to solid food.

It suggests babies might get health benefits from skipping spoon-fed purées, and going straight to feeding themselves with finger foods.

Published by the British Medical Journal, this small study looked at the eating habits of 155 British children as they moved away from breast milk or formula to solid food. Parents were asked if the children fed themselves, if they were picky eaters, and about their height and weight. The spoon-fed and self-fed babies were equally likely to be picky, researchers said. But they found that the two groups preferred different types of food.

Ellen Townsend, associate professor of psychology and one of the authors of the study, said carbohydrates may be more attractive to children who fed themselves because such foods tend to be easy to hold and to chew. Furthermore, they may be more accustomed to a range of healthy, nutritious foods that are intact, instead of masked as purées, which could influence their preferences.

Although the researchers found the majority of children in both groups had a healthy, normal body mass index, a small number of children in the baby-led group were underweight. By contrast, however, Dr. Townsend said a greater number of children in the spoon-fed group were overweight, which could be linked to parents overestimating how much to feed their infants.

"In baby-led weaning, you're essentially handing over control of the feeding process to your child. You're letting them decide when they're full," she says, whereas with spoon-feeding, "perhaps there's a temptation to give the child one or two more spoons more than they actually want."

What about the risk of choking for babies who feed themselves? The researchers found that among the "finger-food" babies, 93.5 percent never had a choking episode.

Image: Baby girl eating via Shutterstock.

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