With most baby food companies offering purees from pouches, this way of feeding little ones is becoming more and more popular – pouches are easy to put in a bag when traveling and there is no need to make a mess with spoon-feeding. However, there is also an increasing trend of starting weaning with finger foods. So what’s the best way to start?
The NHS recommends the introduction of finger foods between 8 to 10 months but a lot of parents opt for baby-led weaning and use finger foods from the very beginning. We’ve experienced that after a few months of trying different styles, most parents end up offering a mix of purees, pouches and finger foods.
However, there are a few reasons why freshly made purees and finger foods should be preferred over pouches when it comes to the importance of introducing solids to your baby’s development.
1. First foods influence the development of speech
Eating from a spoon, biting a soft piece of broccoli and moving the food in the mouth strengthens the jaw muscles. This is essential for speech development. Chewing trains the tongue, which is important for the development of specific speech sounds such as ‘T’ and ‘L’. Training the lips will help with sounds such as ‘P’ and ‘M’. The high fructose content of pouches in combination with sucking can damage the teeth.
2. Babies need to use all their senses when they learn to eat
Apart from new skills for the muscles of the mouth and face, there are a whole lot of other skills to be learned: grasping after food, exploring it with eyes and hands, learning how to hold a spoon or how to handle a fork or the coordination of moving food from the plate to the mouth; all these skills go missing when relying on pouches.
If we think of how much we enjoy going to a restaurant where the food is beautifully arranged on our plates it is easy to understand that eating is an experience for the eyes as well. More importantly, a child has to learn what food actually looks like. From the very beginning they will learn to associate colours and textures with different tastes. This will help them to make their own choices about food later on.
3. Babies need to be exposed to a variety of tastes
Even though the labels of food pouches promise something different, a sweet fruit base often makes up more than 50% of the ingredients. Babies enjoy the sweet taste of the fruit puree but on the other hand they don’t get a chance to develop their palate. While babies under 12 months of age naturally like to explore new tastes they will develop a skill called ‘neophobia’, a fear of new things, when they grow older. This makes the introduction of new tastes after the first birthday difficult. Babies used to pouches are at risk of becoming picky eaters later on.
Given the impact the weaning phase has on your child’s development, it is important to make some considerate choices about how you would like to shape this phase. Every child is different and will need a different approach. And also every parent is different: food and eating might be more important to one than to another. The first years of your baby’s life are a great opportunity to establish healthy habits as a family.
Dr Sophie Niedermaier
In-house Pediatrician & Co-Founder of Little Tummy
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