If you read parenting forums you’ll certainly come across ‘Spoon vs BLW’ debate, it’s almost as heated these days as the ongoing breast vs bottle arguments!
People talk about ‘exclusive BLW’ as being superior to offering finger foods with some spoon-feeding thrown in.
Says who? There is no evidence that the benefits of self-feeding are lost by also offering some food from a spoon. It’s another example of ‘competitive parenting’, and rather than being two equally good or complementary options, it is another example of how parents (usually mothers!) make each other feel bad about their parenting choices.
For your baby to have maximum exposure to a variety of foods (and therefore nutrients) it makes sense to be open-minded and flexible when it comes to weaning approaches. You can choose all BLW if that suits you and your baby or finger foods and spoon-feeding. Either options is fine.
With my first three boys I did a combination of both, probably offering finger foods earlier and earlier as evidence emerged of the benefits and safety. With my last baby, my girl, she opted for 100 percent BLW. Well it might be more accurate to say she opted out of spoon-feeding.
She’s two and half now and much more independent than my boys were at the same age - they’d probably still let me feed them if they could. It’s important to keep an open mind - you may want to take a particular approach, but your baby might have other ideas! Some mums are hell bent on doing BLW but when it comes to it their baby is not developmentally able for this, that’s fine too - all babies will get there in the end.
The option not available to you is 100 percent spoon-feeding. While this is fine for a few weeks initially, from about six months onwards it is important to offer finger foods at each meal as well.
Let’s break it down……
What are the pros for BLW?
You feed family foods so there is no need to make special meals. True, but this is also possible and recommended when offering your baby food from a spoon. Just make sure you modify your family meals to make them suitable. You will also find lots of BLW recipes in books and online, so people doing BLW also often make ‘special’ meals and snacks for their baby too.
It helps your baby regulate their food intake so there is less risk of over-feeding. Again, this is probably true but responsive spoon feeding won’t lead to over feeding either and will allow your baby to dictate the amount of food eaten.
Your baby is included in family mealtimes right from day one - this can and should happen for all babies whether self-feeding or eating from a spoon. This isn’t always practical at every meal for every family and that’s OK too!
Self-feeding helps with motor skill development. True, that’s why finger foods are recommended for all babies from six months. You don’t lose these benefits if you also offer some foods from a spoon.
Some possible cons for BLW?
Not all babies are developmentally ready to self-feed at six months and therefore it can be months before they eat in any meaningful way. You’ve probably hear the phrase ‘food before one is just for fun’ and while partly true, there are nutritional reasons - such as declining iron stores - as to why some foods are needed alongside milk from six months. In these babies, offering some food from a spoon can help them get the nutrition they need while they are developing their self-feeding skills.
One study has shown BLW babies consume lower intakes of iron and zinc, probably because meat is not always offered as a first finger food. Iron rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and fortified cereals need to be offered in an appropriate finger food form or as a spoon feed, or in both formats, from six months.
Getting stuck in a muffin, pancake, pinwheel trap? This is the same as getting stuck with purées - babies need exposure to a variety of textures and tastes. Lots of BLW recipes revolve around muffins, pancakes or foods wrapped in pastry. Your baby needs to experience wet foods, but people are often reluctant to offer these foods because of the mess factor. Solutions? Either brave it and offer porridge/stews/fish pies as a finger food (lots of bibs and wipes) or offer from a spoon. Some people like to pre-load spoons for their baby to feed themselves but helping them with the spoon is fine too. What’s convenient on any given day will change depending on where you’re having the meal, what’s happening next in your day, time available for the meal, how your baby feels, how you feel and what your other kids are doing.
Don’t restrict yourself to one method, there is no right or wrong!
Stay open-minded to all approaches, either full on BLW or a combined approach. Remember, your baby will soon let you know which method they prefer (it might be different to yours!) and this will also change from day to day, week to week. There is no right or wrong if you are offering your baby healthy family foods at relaxed mealtimes.
Good luck with whichever approach you use.