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Should Babies Skip Purees? 5 Things I Learned About Baby-Led Weaning

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My first two kids were introduced to solids using a traditional puree approach. When my third baby was born this past summer, I decided to give Baby-Led Weaning a try.

Baby-Led Weaning originated in the UK. It promotes offering babies long graspable, large coin-shaped, or soft, mushy, and dissolvable finger foods instead of feeding purees with a spoon. The basic premise is that if you wait to start solids until 6 months, babies will be ready to eat finger foods, and the puree stage can be skipped altogether. Babies can eat purees, but with their fingers or utensils, not spoon-fed by the parents.

There has been very little research done in this area, but most of the studies I found had optimistic conclusions, suggesting that Baby-Led Weaning strengthens self-regulation, increases exposure to family foods, and even helps kids be more adventurous eaters later in life.

Related: See 10 Rules for Feeding Your Baby

But the Baby-Led Weaning experience is different for every family. And while some babies embrace it from early on, it does not work for others, especially those who are born prematurely, have oral motor delays or are just not so interested in self-feeding.

Here are the five things I learned about Baby-Led Weaning since my baby started solids:

  1. You do not have to be a strict follower of Baby-Led Weaning in order to help your baby learn how to self-feed. Just make sure to expose him to finger foods from early on. There is research that shows that most 6 month olds are able to grab food and bring it to their mouths. We also know that delayed introduction of textured foods is associated with more feeding problems in the future. And the early finger food movement is catching up with national dietary guidelines, too. Canada's Food Guide now recommends introducing finger foods from 6 months.
  2. Self feeding is very messy, but it gets better. At the beginning, when my 5-6 month old baby was just starting to eat finger foods, most of it fell right out of her mouth or her hands after a lick or bite or two. But later, as she mastered the skill of biting and chewing, less food landed on the floor and more ended up in her tummy. And when she started picking up small pieces of food with her fingers at around 9 months, our feedings because almost mess free.
  3. Babies do not eat much finger foods at the beginning. But it is still important for them to get the nutrition they need to grown and develop. For that reason, I decided to supplement with purees, since my floor was enjoying a much more balanced diet than my baby. I chose protein, iron and zinc rich purees made with meat, fish, beans, and whole grains. As soon as she had no problem handling a smooth puree, we moved to more textured versions and purees with lumps. 
    Related: Get recipes for easy homemade purees
  4. I still enjoy the convenience of spoon feeding. Watching a baby self-feed is precious, but when I need to move on with my day, it is easier to give her lunch using a spoon and finish the feeding in 10-15 minutes, versus waiting the usual 30 minutes until she finishes her meal self-feeding. Generally, I spoon-fed her once a day, at lunch, and she had opportunities to hone her self-feeding skills at two or three other meals. Important if you feed your baby purees: make sure to progress between textures promptly so he is challenged frequently and has an opportunity to develop new feeding skills all the time. Also, pay attention to how baby is responding to spoon-feeding, and stop feeding at the first signs of fullness such as not looking at you or the spoon, paying more attention to the surroundings, not moving towards the spoon, not opening the mouth and turning away from the spoon.
  5. No special finger foods are needed. I started following some Facebook forums on Baby-Led Weaning and found that many moms were looking for special finger food recipes. Many blogs on Baby Led Weaning now feature recipes like mini frittatas with vegetables, baby versions of granola bars and other types of prepared foods that are easy to eat with fingers. Although cute and creative, I found that this approach too laborious for me. I also think that it contradicts the very purpose of Baby-Led Weaning — helping your child learn to eat the foods the family is enjoying. If he has tried spinach only in an egg dish, how will he learn to appreciate its flavor? Avocado, steamed broccoli, banana, soft fruit or roasted veggies are some of the simple finger foods that work well for many 6-7 month olds and that you may already have at home.

Related: See 12 Finger Foods That Don't Come From a Box

The most important lesson I learned from feeding my baby and two older kids is that there is no cookie cutter approach that works for everyone. Some babies thrive on purees, others on finger foods and yet some on both. So instead of committing to a certain feeding philosophy, it is best remain flexible in your approach and to follow your intuition and your baby's developmental signs. Whichever approach you choose remember a quote by feeding expert Ellyn Satter: "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." Everything else will fall into place.

Natalia Stasenko MS, RD, CDN is a pediatric dietitian based in London and New York. A mother of three, she is passionate about feeding kids of all ages. Natalia contributed her nutritional expertise to the cookbook Real Baby Food, and when not writing, teaching online feeding classes or consulting, she is in the kitchen cooking and eating with her family. Follow Natalia on Twitter, read more of her stories on www.tribecanutrition.com.

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Image: Baby feeding himself via Shutterstock