Baby-Led Weaning vs Spoon Feeding

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Baby-led weaning is a trending topic for new moms. But what is it? Is it safe? How is it different from traditional spoon-feeding? 

Baby-Led Weaning vs Spoon Feeding

Baby-led weaning is the process of introducing food to a baby in a way that is different from traditional spoon-feeding. Neither option is “right” or “wrong” and both can be done in safe ways that promote healthy growth and development. Only you, the parent/ caregiver, know what is best for your baby and your family. Below is a table comparing the two, highlighting both pros and cons of each.

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Traditional Spoon Feeding
Baby-led, meaning the child is the one delivering food to their own mouth.  Parent-led, meaning the parent is the one delivering food to the child’s mouth.
The baby must be ready for the task of self-feeding, meaning they need enough head, neck, and trunk control to sit up on their own. This means BLW usually starts between 6-7 months of age.  Often this method is started around 4 months of age. 
In BLW, the child gets to decide when to start and stop eating, leading to better attunement to hunger and fullness cues. Often the parents have expectations of how much volume the baby should eat, which could cause the baby to ignore their hunger/ fullness cues.
Many parents report frustration and/ or anxiety that their babies are not eating the volume of food that they expect or want them to eat at meal times.  Many parents report satisfaction in knowing exactly how much food the baby is getting. 
Often this method is more messy, as babies are allowed the freedom to explore food with all their senses. This often includes innocent (yet messy) behaviors of food smashed on the table, thrown on the floor, smeared in their hair, etc.  This method is less messy, as it is more controlled.
Parents often report more food waste with this method of feeding. Often this method results in less food waste.
BLW is less about current nutritional intake and making the baby eat, and more about giving your child many opportunities to explore new foods and learn how to eat. This could lead to better life-long food acceptance and better long-term nutrition.  Parents often feel confident in their child’s current nutritional intake.
Because the baby is self-feeding, there are many more opportunities to practice and master their fine motor skills Because the parent is driving the spoon into the baby’s mouth, there is less opportunity to practice fine motor skills at meal times.
BLW includes food of all textures (modified for safety), including purees. This decreases the risk of picky eating in childhood and could improve long-term nutritional intake This method starts with one texture- purees. This is thought to increase the risk of picky eating and could decrease nutritional intake as the child ages
The food must be modified for safety, taking extra thought, planning, and knowledge of the caregivers.  Baby food purchased at the store is already modified for safe shape and texture, requiring less thought and planning
When done safely and properly, there is not an increased risk of choking.  When done safely and properly, there is not an increased risk of choking. 
Some think this method is less convenient for feeding babies outside of the home. Some think this method is more convenient for feeding babies outside of the home, as baby foods can be easily packed in the diaper bag.
BLW encourages caregivers to allow babies to eat the same foods as the rest of the family (modified for safety as needed). This increases familial connection and creates opportunities for babies to learn social cues and participate in their family’s culture. Babies do not eat the same foods as their family and often do not sit at the table with the family during meal times. 
When everyone in the family is eating the same types of food, the baby benefits from older members of the family modeling balanced food choices If older members of the family do not engage in balanced eating habits, then the baby may be fed healthier food choices than the rest of the family during this stage of feeding. 
Some say BLW decreases grocery spending, as they do not have to purchase expensive baby food.  Baby food products are expensive.

For more information about choosing a feeding method that is right for you and your unique baby, book an appointment with Lauren Sams, our pediatric dietitian. 

The Baby Led Weaning Made Easy podcast is another great resource if you are looking to learn more about this method of feeding your baby. https://blwpodcast.com/

Written by: Courtney Anderson, MS, RD, LD, CLC

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