Getting Started with Weaning – the different approaches explained

By Helen Hibberd, founder of  Messy Me, a baby and kids messy play and weaning company

Like every aspect of raising a child, there are different ways to approach weaning.  With so much advice available, it can be difficult to work out what’s going to be best for you and your little one.  

I’ve used a mix of approaches with my own children over the years and feel there are advantages and disadvantages to each one, so wanted to share my thoughts.  Hopefully they will help you choose which method is going to be best for you and your baby. 

Nowadays, there are three main ways to wean:

  1. Traditional weaning – spoon-feeding purees to start with, gradually progressing to mashed up food with chunks over the next couple of months. Finger foods are added later.
  2. Baby Led weaning – letting baby take the lead by giving them pieces of food of whatever the rest of the family are eating.  Food is cut into smallish chunks, and baby feeds himself, rather than being spoon-fed. 
  3. Combination weaning – a mixture of the above approaches.  Some meals involve purees, other meals involve finger foods where baby can feed themselves.

Here are some of the pros and cons of the different approaches – based on my experiences, chatting to friends and reading lots about weaning over the years:  

Traditional weaning

The Pros:

  • It’s much easier to monitor how much your baby has actually eaten rather than dropped on the floor!
  • It can be easier to ensure your baby’s diet is nutritionally balanced.
  • Iron rich foods in particular can be difficult for young babies to chew if not pureed.
  • It’s generally less messy – particularly in the early days when you’re in control of the spoon!
    • As your baby starts to grab the spoon and tries to feed himself, things do get messier…
  • For parents who worry about their baby gagging or choking, feeding purees initially can help alleviate this worry.

The Cons:

  • Making up purees is more time consuming and it can be frustrating when your little one refuses to eat your lovingly prepared purees.
  • Having to spoon feed makes it harder to enjoy a meal together.
  • Some babies get very used to the smooth textures of purees and struggle when lumps and different textures are introduced.
Baby led weaning (BLW)

The Pros:

  • BLW babies tend to be more adventurous and less fussy in their eating habits.
  • Allowing your child to explore the foods they are eating in their own time is felt to help with this.
  • You don’t need to stress about introducing food with lumps as baby is exposed to a variety of textures from the start.
  • Babies are more likely to participate in family mealtimes from an early age where you can all eat at the same time, rather than you having to spoon feed baby.
  • Allowing them to feed themselves is felt to be an important part of their development, helping with hand-eye coordination and the pincer grip.
  • You won’t need to spend hours preparing purees – winner!
  • It can be easier for mums with older children as baby can just eat a small portion of the meal prepared for their sibling(s). Meals should be low salt and contain no ingredients unsuitable for young babies though.

The Cons: 

  • It’s messy!  There’s no getting away from this – there is usually more clearing up and tidying up after mealtimes.
  • Our splashmats, high chair cushions and bibs were inspired by baby led weaning my messy little Florence!
  • It’s harder to monitor how much your child is eating vs. finishing a pot of puree, and whether they are getting the nutrients they need.
    • In the early days – a lot ends up on the floor or down the sides of the high chair! 
  • Some people worry about their little ones choking on bits of food.
  • This can’t be started until six months – which can be an issue with really hungry babies or babies who have been advised to wean early by a doctor.
Combination weaning

The Pros:

  • Your baby will learn to both chew and swallow from the start.
  • There’s less chance of your baby rejecting textured, lumpy foods if they’ve been eating finger foods which require some chewing from the start.
  • They are given freedom to feed themselves sometimes, yet you can still keep a good track of what they are eating.
  • Methods can be switched to suit, e.g. if out at a restaurant, your little one can nibble on some of your meal or if you’re at the park, you can grab a pre-made puree to make life easier.

The cons:

  • Some BLW purists will say that you’re undoing all the good if you switch to purees and spoon feeding sometimes, and that you may confuse your baby.
  • Choking remains a concern for some.
  • You’ll still have the additional work of making up purees.

As with most aspects of raising a child, there are generally no right or wrong answers.  

The ‘right’ thing is to choose an approach that works best for you, your baby and your family.  Don’t forget that discovering what’s best may well involve some trial and error!  

Whichever weaning method you choose, the key is to stay relaxed. Allow your baby to go at his or her own pace, offering a range of nutritious foods, and allow them to explore lots of different tastes and textures.  

Good luck and happy weaning!  

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