Is it safe to combine spoon feeding and BLW? Can you do a bit of both?
I often get asked if it’s possible to switch from traditional spoon feeding to baby-led weaning (BLW), or to do a bit of both (what some call “combination feeding”). Some people say that you have to wait 2 weeks between spoon feeding before offering pieces of food but I’m here to tell you that you don’t. Purees are just another texture. Some parents decide to spoon feed their baby at first and now want to try offering pieces of food. I’m here to tell you that’s it’s never too late to start offering pieces of food to your baby but it is important to proceed safely, no matter what approach you decide to opt for. According to this research study, children introduced to lumpy food after 9 months eat less fruit and vegetables at 7 years old and have more feeding problems, so don’t offer purees forever!
What is BLW anyway?
With Baby Led Weaning (BLW), parents offer whole pieces of food to their baby and let them feed themselves starting at around 6 months of age. In this case, babies aren’t spoon fed by someone else.
Can mashed foods or purees be offered to a baby who is doing BLW?
If mashed foods like yogurt, mashed potatoes or apple sauce are on the menu, you can offer them in loaded spoons and let your baby bring them to their mouth on their own. All you need to do is offer the loaded spoon’s handle to your baby and let him or her feed him or herself. To learn more about how to offer loaded spoons to your baby, sign up to my online course here.
Can we switch to BLW?
Yes! I firmly believe that it’s never too late to switch to BLW. While a baby who has been started on purees and spoon feeding can’t truly be defined as having been fully BLW’d, it’s never too late to offer pieces of food.
Everyone is entitled to change their approach when they learn something new, or when they discover that what they’ve chosen isn’t working for them.
Can we ‘do a bit of both’?
I am totally in favour of parents doing whatever works best for them and their child. If this involves a combination of spoon feeding and self-feeding, great! What this isn’t, though, is a combination of the BLW approach and the traditional approach – it’s really just the traditional approach, but starting at six months old (from when the introduction of finger foods alongside spoon-fed pureed or mashed food has always been recommended). BLW is about more than just offering your baby food to pick up – it’s about trusting him to know what he needs. If you’re topping him up with a spoon after he’s had a go with his hands, then you’re not really doing that.
The bottom line is that trusting your baby and not quite trusting him are simply not compatible.
So, while doing some self-feeding and some spoon feeding may work for you, it’s theoretically not full BLW.
A lot of parents who say they are ‘doing a bit of both’ are in fact just following traditional approach, without realizing it. The reason is to do with timing: BLW was beginning to be talked about at around the same time (2002) as the minimum recommended age for solid feeding was changing from four months to six months. The result is that many parents don’t realize that finger foods were already recommended from six months – alongside purees – prior to this. They therefore believe that offering their baby any finger foods means they are ‘doing (some) BLW’.
Why does this matter?
Does the definition of BLW really matter? I believe it does, for two reasons. First, it matters for parents who are hearing about BLW for the first time. If they are to make an informed decision about how they want to approach weaning with their baby they need to understand the underpinning ethos of BLW. If they don’t, they may implement only part of it and then be dismayed when it doesn’t ‘work’. Worse, they may do something dangerous, such as putting lumps of food into their baby’s mouth ‘for her’, which could lead to her choking.
The second reason I believe the definition matters is to enable an increase in knowledge about children and food – globally. If what we think may be the lifelong benefits for babies of being BLW’d (better eating habits, less risk of obesity etc.) are to be proven – or even disproven – by research, then studies need to define clearly and unambiguously what ‘true’ BLW is. If researchers set out to compare babies who have been BLW’d with babies weaned the conventional way without accurately defining what those terms mean, then there is a real risk that some babies will be said to have been BLW’d when, for example, they had purees for the first two weeks, or were routinely spoon-fed at certain meals, or were always fed separately from the rest of the family. This muddying of the waters would make the results of the research meaningless, and could well mean that some of the real benefits of BLW don’t show up.
Belonging to the ‘club’
So what does this mean for BLW groups and forums? Should parents who are ‘doing a bit of both’, or who started off following a traditional approach and then ‘switched’ to BLW be allowed to be members of the BLW ‘club’? My answer is yes, I think they should. While I do believe it’s important for everyone to be clear whether what they are doing is or isn’t ‘true’ BLW, I don’t believe anyone should feel ostracised for not choosing (or being able) to follow it to the letter. Everyone is different: for some, their support network of family and friends is pro-BLW, while others face resistance every day. Some babies have specific medical or developmental challenges that impact on their eating. For many parents, being able to share others’ experiences is what gives them the courage to keep going at the level they are, or to make the leap to ‘full’ BLW.
People meet at different points along the parenting route but we can still be friends and travel together, sharing what we have in common while at the same time respecting our differences. While it’s not helpful to admit people whose intention is to make trouble, I like to think anyone who is genuinely interested in finding out more about BLW would be made to feel welcome in a BLW group.
About choking hazards
No matter what approach you choose, your baby can choke. He or she can choke on coins, toys, chips, candies, gum, popcorn and anything, really. That’s why every caregiver needs to know what to do in case their baby is choking. Please refer to this information from the Red Cross and take a first aid class for babies. According to Amy Brown’s research, BLW was not associated with increased risk of choking compared to spoon feeding.
Food pouches can be quite practical when out and about but I don’t routinely recommend them because they’re not very stimulating for babies. Babies just suck and swallow the applesauce and don’t even need to chew. It’s quite a passive experience. Here is a question I got from a parent:
“My baby is 14 mo. I give her pouches after a meal if she doesn’t eat much. Do you recommend those?”
I don’t recommend offering pouches after a meal if your baby doesn’t eat much because she will come to expect those if offered regularly. It can lead to more picky eating in the long run. Here and there as a convenient snack, pouches are practical but not on a regular basis. Also, it’s ok if your toddler doesn’t eat much at a meal because she is probably eating every 2-3 hours because of snacks in between meals. If she doesn’t eat much at one meal, that’s ok. She may not be feeling well or may not be hungry so will eat at the next opportunity.
I asked the parents who follow me on social media to ask me their questions about purees and solid foods and I answer them below. Do note that I have not met these parents so I always recommend talking to their pediatrician or nutritionist. To get my unlimited support and ask me all your specific questions (and support my business, thank you!), subscribe to my online course.
William will be 9 months old next week. He’s been eating purees since he was 4 months old, but I’ve always offered him solid foods as well. He eats about 250 g of purées. For a few days now, we always start with the pieces and when he gets tired, he continues with purees to have the same number of grams as usual. Is this a good solution?
Since your baby is already 9 months old, he is able to handle finger foods himself. It is certain that by stopping spoon-feeding, there will be a transition period where he will eat less. During this period, he will take a few more sips of milk and as he practices, he will eat more and more. At this age, he should eat about 3 meals a day and you can offer him food that he can grab himself with his hands. Sticks work well. All you have to do is offer safe, soft and nutrient-filled foods. For your particular situation, you can stop spoon-feeding him and offer him solid foods. For inspiration and recipe ideas, subscribe to my online course.
My daughter is in the nursery and they don’t do BLW so we have started a classic diversification. She is 5 months old and can’t sit up straight. When the conditions are right, can we give her solid foods on the weekend and under what conditions?
I suggest starting introducing solid foods at around 6 months of age, when your baby shows all the signs that she is ready (see my online course). If she is offered purees at the nursery, eats them and it is going well, you can continue like that. If your baby doesn’t want to be fed and doesn’t eat much at all, you can just stop spoon-feeding her until she shows all the signs that she is ready. There is no problem feeding a baby with a spoon in the nursery and offering finger foods at home, as long as the food choice is safe. If you would like your baby to have an active and intuitive experience at all meals, you can discuss with the nursery about the benefits of BLW. Let me know in my online course if you need arguments.
My daughter is 9 months old and started purees at 4.5 months old. She has difficulty with the chunks in the purees but she is getting better. I’m afraid to give her solid foods because when she eats bread, she puts it almost whole in her mouth. It scares me.
Since your daughter is already 9 months old, you can stop purees and offer her soft and safe solid foods now (see my online course for examples of foods to offer). Here are some tips that can help you in your particular situation:
- You can cut her bread into various shapes (squares, rectangles, sticks) so that the feeling is different every time she takes a bite.
- You can offer her only one food or even one bite at a time (example: a small bite of bread) to help her take her time.
- You can offer her water frequently during the meal in an open cup. This will help her slow down and take her time to eat.
- You can introduce safe utensils such as a small fork or spoon. These require more motricity and will slow down her flow.
- You can talk to her during lunch about things other than what she is eating. Tell her about her toys, friends, etc. and it will make the meal experience more enjoyable.
My baby is 7 months old. We started the classic method (cereals) at 4.5 months old, and since the age of 6 months we have been offering him food in pieces and we offer him purees at the end of the meal. Can I give him meatballs, a bell pepper or a cucumber?
In this particular situation, you can stop feeding your baby puree. We want him to eat by himself, actively and at his own pace so that he eats enough but not too much. There may be a transition period when your baby will eat a little less until he develops the skills through practice. He will drink a little more milk and quickly become an expert eater. If the meatballs are tender enough, they can be offered to your baby, but I don’t recommend raw bell pepper and raw cucumbers to newborns because they are too hard and can cause choking. To find out what you can offer him to eat, subscribe to my online course.
My baby is 7.5 months old. She’s been eating purees since she was 4.5 months old. I want to give her solid foods but she can’t sit up straight yet. Is BLW appropriate for her?
You can read my answers above to find out how to introduce solid foods. To start introducing solid foods, I recommend that all babies be able to maintain a sitting position for a few seconds (among other things). It is important to offer a variety of textures quickly so don’t wait too long. If your baby is not able to maintain a sitting position for a few seconds at 7.5 months old, I suggest consulting a physiotherapist to see if there is a delay.
My baby is 6 months old and started purees at 5 months old. He eats everything! How can I switch to solid foods?
Since he eats everything, it is certain that by stopping spoon-feeding, there will be a transition period where he will eat less. During this period, he will take a few more sips of milk. It will only last a few days. If he shows all the signs that he is ready (see my online course), you can introduce soft pieces of solid food and stop giving him purees.
Is it normal that our nursery only offers vegetables to my baby?
Since your baby has huge nutritional needs, she needs to eat a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, fruit, meat or alternatives, good fats and others. I suggest discussing her great needs with the nursery and offering her a wide variety of foods at home.
My baby is 8.5 months old and eats purees. He plays with his food. How do I make him understand that he can eat what I offer him? I want some recipe ideas for his age.
It is still normal for your baby to play with his food. Playing, licking, throwing and chewing are part of his learning. One day, he crushes a piece of pancake, the next he takes it in his hands, and the one after that he puts it in his mouth. That’s progress! Set an example by eating with him. You can also vary the shapes of the food offered to make it more interesting for him. Here are some recipe ideas for an 8-month-old baby:
Is BLW possible for a 5.5-month-old baby? He eats a little puree but not every day.
Your 5.5-month–old baby may be BLW ready. He must absolutely show all the signs that he is ready (see my online course for the signs). Since he doesn’t seem to eat a lot of purées, you could just stop offering them and start BLW when he’s ready.
My baby is 5.5 months old and her pediatrician is against BLW (choking). He recommends purees before 6 months. Despite his advice, I want to do BLW. Can I start with the purees and then switch to BLW?
First, according to Health Canada:
It is important for parents and caregivers to provide a variety of soft textures (such as lumpy, tenderly cooked and finely chopped, pureed, crushed or ground) and finger foods from the age of six months.
You can discuss this with your pediatrician so that he is aware of the current recommendations. Some babies need to eat purees before 6 months of age because of a special situation (see your pediatrician). If your baby does not have a special condition, you can wait until she shows all the signs that she is ready and start introducing solid food at that time. At 5.5 months, she may be ready (see my online course), but you may also have to wait 1 to 3 weeks. There is no hurry to get started so if you want to do BLW, wait a while and it will come soon!
My baby is 7 months old and is spoon-fed. She doesn’t eat much and mostly plays with the spoon. We started purees a month ago and eats very little. Can I introduce solid foods?
Especially if she doesn’t eat much, you can offer her soft pieces of food and so she can play with them (see my online course for food ideas). You can stop giving her purees. There may be a short transition period where she will eat less, but it should not last. Since she plays with the spoon, she will play with food and will probably become an expert eater quickly!
My baby is 4 months old and we started offering him purees. At what age can I combine purees and solid foods?
If you started purees at 4 months old and it’s going well, you can introduce solid foods as soon as your baby shows the signs that he’s ready (see my online course). Most babies start at around 6 months of age. You will then be able to stop spoon-feeding him. There may be a short transition period when he eats less, but it shouldn’t last.
If you started purees at around 4 months of age and your baby eats almost nothing, you can stop offering it altogether and introduce solid foods when he is ready, which is around 6 months for most babies.
My baby is 8 months old. He eats rice cookies and pancakes. What else can I give him?
My online course is a wealth of information for inspiring meals for babies between 6 and 12 months. There are recipes for bites, popsicles, cookies, roasted vegetables and much more.
My baby is 4.5 months old. Is it safe to spoon-feed my baby with his nanny and do BLW at home?
First, you have to ask yourself why your 4.5-month-old baby needs to start solid foods. It is rare for such a young baby to have a real need for food since his milk meets all his needs until he is about 6 months old. Ideally, I suggest waiting until your baby shows all the signs that he is ready before starting to eat, usually at around 6 months of age. You can start BLW and discuss it with your nanny to make her feel comfortable with the approach. You can even subscribe to my online course and give her access to it so she can watch all the videos of babies who are doing BLW.
My baby is 7.5 months old. I’ve been trying to give him purees since he was 5 months old, but without success. He likes cookies though! What should I do now?
Since your baby is already 7.5 months old, you can start offering him soft pieces of solid food that he can grab himself. Since he likes to grab the cookie, he will certainly not have a problem with BLW. Get inspiration for examples of meals for your baby in my online course.
Do what is best for your family. Be informed about safe introduction of complementary foods by signing up for my online course. Know that your baby can choke on just about anything so make sure there are no choking hazards around.
My BLW Online Course
Check out my Infant Feeding Online Course for parents to get all the answers to your questions. In this course accessible 24/7 and worldwide, you get to ask me an unlimited number of questions and I answer them very quickly. This course is for parents who started purees and want to offer pieces of food and parents just starting out with BLW. No matter what approach you have decided to take, this course is for you because you don’t want to stay on purees forever. The courses don’t expire so sign up anytime and get lifetime access. CHECK OUT MY INFANT FEEDING COURSE TODAY!
Thank you Gill Rapley who contributed to writing parts of this blog post.