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Maybe babies don't need the spoon-fed mush

February 07, 2012|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Eating finger foods may be a better way for babies to wean from the breast or bottle.
Eating finger foods may be a better way for babies to wean from the breast… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Most infants are weaned from breast milk or formula to pureed baby foods. From there they go on to eat finger foods -- cut-up pieces of soft table foods -- and on to cheeseburgers and fries. Well, OK, maybe not all of them.

A new study suggests that babies may develop healthier eating habits if the skip that pureed-food stage and go straight to finger foods.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal on Monday, looked at 155 children ages 20 months to 6 years old. Their parents provided detailed information on the children's weaning style and food preferences.

More kids -- 92 -- had been allowed to finger-feed themselves and 63 babies had been spoon-fed with pureed foods during the weaning stage. Differences showed up between the two groups. The babies who ate finger foods liked carbohydrates more; the spoon-fed babies liked sweets more. More of the spoon-fed kids were obese or overweight. In comparing the two groups, researchers controlled for other factors that could affect infant feeding styles, such as family income and parents' weight.

The study is small but raises some interesting questions, said the authors, from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. It could be that babies are aware of food textures and food presentation and that awareness shapes their food preferences. Pureed foods lack any texture recognition.

Also, allowing babies to feed themselves during weaning helps them to pay attention to their appetites and develop control over food. Babies are less likely to be influenced by the parents' anxieties over how much they eat.

Of course, one of the best reasons to wean using pureed foods is to protect babies from choking on baby foods. The study authors said that few babies in the finger-fed group choked on their food.

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