Myth: Baby-led Weaning (BLW) and spoons don’t mix.
Not true! At the heart of BLW is the idea that your baby gets to feed himself—which means he should be the one holding the food OR the utensil! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using purées and spoons, especially if you let go of them and let your baby explore and self-feed just like he would with a spear of zucchini.
Introducing spoons in this way—right from the start— helps prevent a common BLW question: “when should my baby start using a spoon?”
Not sure about this? We often hear:
“But he can’t hold the spoon yet /can’t scoop / can’t get the purées to his mouth.”
Yes that’s totally common and also absolutely OK! Most likely he doesn’t care and will go ahead and do his best to try to figure it out. He’s going to make a huge mess in the process. He’s going to put the wrong side of the spoon in his mouth. He’ll get purées in his ear and in his hair. This is part of the learning curve. Don’t step in unless your baby really needs it (starts crying, looking at you for help, totally loses his confidence). Encourage him- “you’re trying to figure that out!” Laugh with him when he gets messy. Enjoy the process and do not expect much food to actually make it into your baby’s mouth at first. THIS IS OK!
He’ll show you when he’s ready to start skillfully using the spoon to eat meals—he’ll gradually and naturally stop bringing the wrong side to his mouth and start to scoop successfully.
How to help your baby use a spoon
What if my baby is really struggling and can’t figure out how to feed himself with the spoon (or won’t feed himself with the spoon?)
Often you can prevent this by introducing spoons and forks from the start at one meal a day as we mentioned above. But if your baby still resists, we usually see 1 of 2 versions of this:
Baby hates the spoon and won’t use it or accept it from you.
Baby won’t use the spoon to feed himself but is happy to eat from the spoon if you feed him.
The approach is slightly differently depending on which one best describes your baby. Let’s start with the first.
My baby hates the spoon and won’t use it or let me feed her. What now?
Stop using the spoons. Go to 100% finger feeding for a while. This means letting your baby feed herself with her hands. Use BLW to choose foods that are easy to pick up, OR allow your baby to get purees on their fingers and hands and bring them to their mouth. Or, use stick shaped foods like a beef rib or a mango spear to dip into purées and act as the spoon! Try again with the spoon in a month or so but when you bring it back, let your baby hold it and use it by herself without any pressure. Model for her by eating your own food with a spoon. If she’s not interested, don’t respond, just leave it there nearby and try again in another few days in the same way: zero pressure, just set it on the table within reach. Outside of mealtimes bring spoons out for play. Use spoons in the garden with your baby to dig. Use spoons in the living room during play time. Use spoons in the bath to scoop water. Trust that she will figure it out gradually in time.
My baby won’t use the spoon to feed himself, he only wants me to feed him!
This issue should be addressed slightly differently depending on you’re baby’s age. If your baby is 6-10 months old, we strongly recommend STOPPING the spoon feeding as soon as possible by either going cold turkey and replacing purées and spoon feeding with Baby-Led Weaning OR reduce the spoon feeding to no more than one meal per day and do BLW at the other meals. This requires you to shift your mindset a bit! Your baby may love being spoon fed and may eat a lot more at the meals where you are spoon feeding but in those other meals —the BLW meals—your baby is building important life skills of self feeding. Even if he doesn’t eat anything at the table, he’ll get breast milk or formula later so try not to worry.
If your baby is older than 11 months, you no longer have quite as much time to jump to baby led weaning as your baby learns to self-feed and chew so you will likely have to more gradually transition from you spoon feeding, to your baby controlling the spoon. In this case, you will start to hand over the control of the spoon little by little. You can do this by scooping a bite for your baby then offering the spoon in front of your baby, but low, so they have to reach for it and pull your hand towards their mouth. Let them start to do this—guided your hand holding the spoon towards their mouth. Over time, bring the spoon lower and lower until you’re able to set it down in front of your baby so he or she can pick it up independently. When that happens you will be scooping a bite then setting the spoon down for your baby to self-feed, then letting your baby hand the spoon back to you.
Next, encourage your baby to start to scoop with you by grabbing their hand plus the spoon (gently) after they take the bite you set down on the table and guiding both to scoop a bite of food. Every few bites, do the same thing—use your hand over your baby’s hand to hold the spoon and scoop. Keep the bowl of food in front of your baby in case he or she feels interested in reaching in to the bowl to grab a handful of food (even if it’s soup!) to bring it to his/her mouth. it will be messy but an excellent learning opportunity.
Loading the spoon for baby
One last tip: it’s tempting to “load” the spoon for your baby then hand it over as we describe above to help your baby who is refusing spoons, without checking first to see if your baby can do this independently, to avoid a mess . This is totally fine in the first few weeks and then here and there after that if your baby is having a challenging day or maybe is tired or fussy at a meal. But when we return to the principles of BLW we can see that the learning is in the self-guided exploration, in the trial and error, even in the mistakes. Sure, load a spoon here and there to help your baby experience a “win” but mostly sit back and enjoy your own meal! Let your baby be the problem solver he or she was meant to be. Otherwise, leave this strategy for babies who are clearly struggling with learning to use the spoon.