The birth of a child is an exciting time for families, but can also be filled with uncertainty. After the blur of the first few months with your new little one, there will come a time when you decide to venture into the land of food outside the breastaurant. The question will be, do you use purées or do you use baby led weaning?
This is quite the debate in the parenting community, with most parents identifying with one camp or the other. However, we found it wasn’t so black and white. We took a different path as we found advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the coin.
1. Less Gagging
Some suggest there are reduced chances of your newborn choking on this type of food. There are no lumps and chunks for baby to have to mash up before swallowing. However, research indicates there’s no statistical difference in actual choking (i.e. blockage of the airways) between either camp. Still, I’m still adding this to the pros for purées because Bean gagged less often with them. Less gagging can go a long way to help put parents at ease.
Purées are a very convenient method of feeding your child as prep time is literally just twisting off a cap or lid. (If you’re feeling really wild, you can squeeze it out into a bowl and spoon feed). Pre-packaged purées are nice as babies like to eat, all the time, and you never have to worry about what your child will eat during a night out or if you have nothing prepared.
3. Health Friendly
Purées are great for those who love to experiment in the kitchen. Homemade recipes allow you to create a variety of flavors and combinations for your child to learn about. You also get to feel like a health food champ and an environmentally friendly mom.
Additionally, creating your own combinations allows you to ensure your child never comes in contact with any food that is a potential allergy. While this wasn’t something we worried about much with Bean, as food allergies are not prevalent in our families, this is certainly important for many others.
4. Variety of Flavors/Combos
If you’re buying purées, there are some really cool combination of foods nowadays. There are foods and spices I have never eaten in my 31 years of life. Even my mother made a comment about the wide variety of food combinations and how the industry has changed since I was a kid. This is awesome as it allows for exposure to a variety of flavors or foods that perhaps the baby would not be able to try otherwise.
Feeding your child pre-packaged purées is pretty much the most expensive option out of both camps. If you’re going to use these foods, I recommend making sure you are prepared for the financial burden or are ready to prep some of your own mixtures in addition to buying others.
2. Unhealthy/Unwanted Ingredients
Many of the baby food options have a crap-ton of junk ingredients. For our family, we tend to eat a reduced carb/sugar diet and some of the pre-packaged baby foods are LOADED with carbs and sugars. Additionally, some of the brands include undesirable preservatives which you may or may not be cool with. We are not.
3. Questionable Quality Control
A huge portion of the pre-packaged foods now come served in bags which have a twist top and can either be squeezed out into a bowl or sucked out of the straw shaped top. While this may seem like a pro for some parents, most of the packs do not show you what the food looks like inside leading to serious quality control issues.
For example, there many parents who report finding bags full of mold. In fact, this happened to a friend of mine. In our case, we found hard lumps of old, petrified, pieces of ‘whatever’ floating about in one of our packages. If you’re going to buy bagged, find the clear bags.
4. Fruit, Fruit, Fruit
Almost every one of the available mixtures has some sort of sweet fruit mixed in which can completely cover the flavors of the other food. This makes it more palatable for the child, of course, but also means he or she begins to expect every food should be sweet.
Additionally, it is incredibly hard to find combinations that include meat proteins. For some, this may not be problematic, and may even be preferential, but in our family, meat is an essential dietary requirement. Of course, finding a purée with meat that also lacks a fruit is damned near impossible. I find this seriously annoying.
5. Limited Textures
Many say babies do not learn to appreciate the variety of textures that solid food has to offer. Indeed, there are many moms out there who report pickier eaters when starting with purées. However, while I think this is a potential disadvantage, I cannot find any scientific resource that confirms or dis-confirms these claims.
Baby Led Weaning Pros:
1. Variety of Textures
With baby led weaning, the baby learns how to manipulate/chew foods in the mouth before swallowing. There are some who suggest that this decreases picky eaters (opposite as mentioned above) as it exposes the child to a wider variety of textures at an earlier age. Again, there is no scientific backing to this statement. It is purely anecdotal. So, keep that in mind.
2. Builds Mindfulness
Babies who feed themselves may listen more to their hunger cues which lets them be in charge of when they stop eating. This may result a healthier weight as they age. With purée feeding, it is easier to overfeed, even if unintentional. Also, for some moms, baby led weaning teaches the baby to listen to the body. This is a valuable mindfulness technique that is great for both emotional and physical health.
3. Develops Motor Skills
Baby led weaning allows the baby to be more hands on with their eating habits. Not only are they given increased opportunities to practice their pincer grasp, they are also learning the fine art of getting the food to the food hole (which is entertaining to watch). Some also say babies learn more independence this way.
While you can still promote self-feeding with purées, it is messier and results in less food intake. It is also used less often because of these disadvantages.
4. Promotes Family Mealtime
With this method, the baby also has the chance to be exposed to the same meals as the family. This is super convenient as it reduces having to prepare something entirely different at every meal. This saves freezer space from stacks of purées and saves some cash by avoiding all those bagged options. Baby eats what the family eats.
5. Encourages Healthier Diets
For some, having a child also encourages families to change their diets. Many parents are much more likely to focus on making sure their child gets a varied and healthy diet. They are more likely to focus on that than they do with their own diets. If the baby eats what the family eats, it could push the family to eat healthier meals overall. If the baby gets purées, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the family eats popcorn and beer or candy bars and ice cream.
Baby Led Weaning Cons:
1. Messy Is An Understatement
Babies have a ton of fun when they are exploring their plates. This can lead to very messy meals. While that might make for some fun photo ops, for many, the mess is just not worth it. Every meal time has the potential to lead straight to bath time. Do this three times a day and you can see why it’s easier to just grab the bagged food.
2. Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is also a real concern for many families. With baby led weaning, much of the food goes to waste. This means there is more reliance upon breastmilk/formula for satiation. Since babies in the second half of their first year are more prone to iron deficiency (as breastmilk/formula are no longer able to completely provide the necessary amounts on their own), the reliance upon more milk can lead to more iron deficiencies.
Feeding the baby purées can reduce the reliance upon formula or breastmilk as the baby ages because more food goes down the hatch. For parents struggling with their child’s iron levels, this is really important.
3. Time Consuming
It takes a loooooooooooooooooong time (sometimes) for mealtimes to be finished. Often, this translates into feeling like there’s only minutes in between meals and that you spend the whole day in the kitchen/dining room. I don’t know about you, but there’s no description for how uncool I think that is.
Baby led weaning isn’t for everyone, but neither is purées. For some of us, me included, doing a bit of both is the only option that makes sense. The convenience of pre-packaged baby foods helped us out during times when we were
lazy rushed. We also combined this with our own purée combinations.
However, we strongly believe in family dinners and in self-sufficiency. Thus, baby led weaning was also a fantastic opportunity for our child to develop skills while exploring his world. He has been able to eat a variety of meats he would never have gotten in a pre-packaged purée and he has become quite adventurous with his tastes. I only hope this continues as he ages.
Lastly, the continued effort to provide healthy foods for family meals has allowed us to thrive with a lower sugar diet than the standard American diet. At the same time Bean learns to appreciate that foods do not have to be sweet to be palatable.
Here is a link to a meta-study of available research comparing the two practices: Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date. Ultimately, it concludes both methods are viable, but makes some interesting points about the differences between families of both ideologies.
What do you think? Have you chosen a side? Let me know in the comments below.