Following my last post I have had some questions about correct spoon feeding. I thought I would share my response with you all as I think some more clarification is needed.
Spoon feeding can be a valuable part of weaning in the ‘right hands’.
Even though it is often the parent holding the spoon, spoon feeding also needs to be ‘baby led’. As a parent, you need to be attentive to your baby’s needs and wishes at all times. It is easy for spoon feeding to go wrong and I have seen mothers jabbing spoons at their babies and their babies obviously not enjoying it. Spoon feeding should be like a dance partnership where the parent and child read each other’s signals and feeding happens in synchrony. Here are some tips, from my personal and professional experience, on how to do spoon feeding correctly.
How to spoon feed in a supportive manner
- Get your baby to sit in front of you and face you. Putting them in a high chair at a table with you can help as you are at the same level and this is a good precursor to future family meals
- Use a baby safe spoon. Using a shallow soft weaning spoon can help. Its soften if they play with it and stops you putting too much on the spoon
- Don’t over fill the spoon. Too big mouthfuls can be off putting!
- Hold the spoon in front of them. Hold the spoon laden with food about 10 cm away from his/her mouth.
- Get his/her attention. Make sure the TV is turned off and nothing too exciting is happening at meal times.
- Let them lean forward. Let them come to the spoon instead of you leaning forward.
- Try a taster on their lips. If they are unsure or it is a new food, put a little on their lip.
- Read their signals – Each baby is different so watch carefully and see when they are ready for the next mouthful. Try to match their pace.
- Let your baby touch the food. Engaging with food is an important way of learning textures, even if it means squashing a pea and not eating it!
- Make meal times social. Sit and eat a little with your baby. Let them watch you trying the food yourself and they may be more likely to give it a go. Have a chat about the food they are eating and plans you might have for the day.
- Stop when he/she has had enough. Never be tempted to try sneak in mouthfuls. One extra spoonful won’t make any difference nutrition wise. It will just upset your baby and make meal times a stressful experience.
TOP TIP: Spoon feeding can be a valuable part of weaning in the ‘right hands’. Spoon feeding should be like a dance partnership where the parent and child read each other’s signals and feeding happens in synchrony
A lot of people have asked me recently about skipping purees and going straight into baby led weaning. There are pros and cons to every weaning approach. You need to find the approach that works for you but here are some of my thoughts if you are looking for guidance.
Baby Led Weaning
The theory is that if you wait until 6 months your baby can skip purees and start feeding themselves with finger foods. The baby takes part in family meal times and the baby decides how much she/he will eat. Your baby is in the driving seat but finger foods have their limitations.
This approach starts with spoon feeding of purees which progresses through four stages of textures. Using a spoon can be helpful when trying to achieve variety as some foods are not good finger foods. It’s very much a parent led agenda and the risk is the parent does not respect the child’s refusal and spoon feeding becomes intrusive.
I believe there is a good middle ground and both spoon feeding and finger foods have their place in the weaning process. Just as long as you, the parent, fulfil your feeding role then there is no risk that spoon feeding becomes a negative experience.
- Attentive feeding is at the heart of this approach. Respect your role in the feeding realtionship (see earlier post) and watch for signs that your baby wants more or has had enough.
- There is nothing wrong with spoon feeding if it is done properly. When you first start with weaning your child will most likely be unable to feed themselves sufficiently. Spoon feeding will provide taste exposure and nutrition until they can adequately eat by themselves. I have known some babies to start waking up at night again because baby led weaning did not fill them up.
- Let them play with food even whilst you are spoon feeding e.g. give them a soft cooked carrot stick to chew on. That way they get to feel the texture and engage with the food.
- Be wary of iron deficiency.The foods that are good sources of iron (chicken, meat, fish, beans/lentils) are often hard to give a 6 month old as finger foods so spoon feeding is handy for these.
- The stages of weaning are not time specific. Your child may progress very quickly through purees and textured foods to soft finger foods. Let your child be your guide to the right texture for them at that stage.
- Encourage family meals. Try to involve your baby in your meal times (have them sit at the table with you) and try to eat something when they eat. And instead of cooking separate meals, try to tailor your meals to your little one (no sugar and salt).
TOP TIP: Let your child’s development determine how you progress with weaning and what type of foods you offer.
When you have a child you have to start thinking about the best way to feed your child. And getting it right from the start will stand you in good stead for the future. Understanding your role as a parent in the feeding process will make meal times easier, relaxed and more fun. I recently came across Ellyn Satter’s work and she explains the feeding roles of the parent and child really well. Here’s a quick summary for you.
THE PARENT is responsible for
- What your child eats. You choose the meals you cook and serve and can ensure your child has a balanced and varied diet.
- When your child eats. Setting routine meal times is important to make sure your little one does not go hungry and their energy levels remain topped up. Having meals together with the family is great because then your little one can watch you eat..
- Where you child eats. Meals are best at a table and together with the family.
THE CHILD is responsible for
- How much they eat. You have to trust your child and that they know when they have had enough. Research indicates that children have very good satiation and hunger cues. Let them listen to their internal cues and stop when they have had enough
- Whether they eat. Remember when your parents’ asked you to eat up? I am sure it didn’t make you want to eat. There will be some days your child does not feel like eating. Respect this wish and your child will respond positively when they want to eat.
These roles apply to solid food as well as any milk feeds you give your child.
TOP TIP: You can make meals a positive experience if you provide balanced meals at the right time and place but respect your child’s right to choose how much they eat.