Pureed or not pureed? That is the question!
Time goes so fast. Not so long ago you were carrying your baby in your womb, full of expectancy and hope and a little bit nervous about the birth moment. But now your baby is a happy and healthy child just about to reach 6 months of age. Suddenly, you’ve realized it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to add solid foods to their diet.
So far, they have only been exclusively drinking your breast milk or formula milk in case you didn't breastfeed, but how should you offer the first solid foods? Should you start with pureed foods just like your mother did with you, or should you go with Baby Led Weaning (BLW), that new and trendy infant feeding approach you may have heard so much about? Is there any other option… a mix of both perhaps?
Let´s see what the options are.
What is Baby Led Weaning (BLW)?
When your baby is ready to eat solid foods, usually between 4 and 6 months of age, the meal usually arrives on a spoon. Parents used to blend or puree fruits and vegetables to nurture their babies - things like carrots, bananas, or fortified cereals. So, solid and other foods were offered in a liquid, mashed or pureed form.
However, over the last decade or so, an unconventional feeding approach coined ‘baby-led weaning’ has been growing in popularity. Here, instead of the traditional use of purees and spoon-feeding, infants are allowed to self-feed family foods in their whole form. Children are the ones who set the speed and intake of the meal; they are who decides what to choose and how much they eat.
Advocates of the BLW approach say it offers a range of benefits to babies, such as healthy eating behavior because they will learn to have better appetite control, improved motor skill development, and even better weight gain and growth trajectories on their growth charts.
However, in spite of its widespread acceptance and popularity, there are some concerns among parents and health professionals about the safety and feasibility of this method. Critics express that the main fears are the risk of food-related choking, as well as inadequate intakes of nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin B12. In addition, consuming some family foods may be unsuitable for a young baby, for example, foods that are too high in sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, or sugars.
The best news is that according to studies, babies eating solid foods instead of purees are not more likely to choke. A team of researchers, who followed 200 babies from Australia, concluded that if certain risky foods were avoided, babies who fed themselves solid foods were not more likely to choke than spoon-fed babies. Another study recalls that families and mothers often change their family diet to suit the baby-led infant necessities, and in many cases become healthier.
But what if you’re still not feeling confident enough to introduce solid foods and let your baby feed by themselves? Can you start mixing the two methods?
Mixing purees and BLW
Parents, who don’t feel confident enough to start using the BLW approach fully, are also concerned about the safety of mixing finger foods with purees at the same time. It’s common to hear them say that combining both might even increase the choking risk, which is every parent's worst nightmare. However, to date, there is no study confirming such a statement, and pediatric and feeding specialists all agree that mixing both textures is safe. Moreover, speech pathologists working in the area of infant feeding, say that combining the method of purees via spoon and letting your baby self-feed with high nutritional value finger foods, appears to meet most of the infants’ needs, AND that BOTH purees and finger feeding facilitate the progression of skills, such as chewing, spitting, swallowing, gagging etc.
So, if this choice sounds like something more suitable to you, I’d say go ahead and don’t be afraid. You can start feeding and introducing solid foods shortly afterwards the purees or, feed both textures at the same time.
According to Julie Clark, a Baby-led weaning expert, if you feel that mixing purees and solid foods is the best method for you, you can help your baby by:
- Offering a variety of nutritious finger foods, but still feed them pureed or mashed versions of a variety of foods, especially those rich in iron, zinc and Vitamin B12, if you are concerned.
- Let your baby discover and enjoy each food in its natural form, rather than trying to “hide” it in baked foods.
- If your baby wants to grab and use the spoon themselves then let them.
- If your baby is showing a preference for finger foods then increase the balance so that more finger food is available to them.
- Make sure you start to reduce spoon-feeding and increase finger foods from seven months to eight months.
Whether you want to try BLW, a traditional approach or mix both methods, what’s really important is that you as a parent feel happy and confident with your choice. Babies can sense if you are anxious and worried that they will choke on the food you offer them.
Remember not to rush your baby, the ideal and recommended age to introduce BLW is at 6 month of age, where your baby has acquired certain motor skills and neck strength. If your baby is introduced to BLW and their body is not developmentally prepared for it, in this case it could be dangerous and unsafe indeed.
If you want to go for the Baby Led Weaning approach, just remember to offer your baby a wide variety of nutritious foods. Have patience and give time to your child to explore and familiarize themselves with the foods you present to them in their plate. Also, make sure you include foods that are rich in iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.
All in all, let it be a fun, creative time filled with a variety of senses for your baby to enjoy!
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Fangupo LJ, Heath AM, Williams SM, Erickson Williams LW, Morison BJ, Fleming EA, Taylor BJ, Wheeler BJ, Taylor RW. A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics. 2016 Oct;138(4). pii: e20160772
Cameron, S. L., Heath, A.-L. M., & Taylor, R. W. (2012). How Feasible Is Baby-Led Weaning as an Approach to Infant Feeding? A Review of the Evidence. Nutrients, 4(11), 1575–1609. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu4111575
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Baby-Led Weaning & Introduction of Solids - Peninsula Health. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.peninsulahealth.org.au/2017/08/25/baby-led-weaning-introduction-of-solids/
Melanie Potock. (2014). Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective. Retrieved from https://blog.asha.org/2014/02/04/baby-led-weaning-a-developmental-perspective/