Helping babies eat on their own

Baby is growing every day, and with that growth comes all different kinds of independence, but one of the most important kinds is his independence with food. He used to be totally dependent on you for sustenance, but soon he will be ready to feed himself. He’s not quite there yet, though, and as he starts working on the shift from being fed to feeding himself, he’ll need your help making for the transition.

  1. Try it on Baby’s time
    Baby will let you know when he is ready to start trying to feed himself by taking an interest in the food you’re feeding either yourself and the rest of your family, or the food you’re feeding him.
    He may not quite have the motor skills to feed himself everything he needs at first, so when it looks like he is done practicing shoving finger foods into his mouth, try offering him a bite from your fingers or a spoon. If Baby doesn’t want it, he is probably ready to be done with mealtime, but if he eats up, he probably just needs a little help getting all of the nutrients he needs still.
  2. Prepare for things to get messy
    No one actually wants the kitchen disaster-area scene that happens when Baby first starts to feed himself, but it’s probably not something you can avoid entirely. Every baby is different, so it’s possible that Baby will take to neat-eating and perfect table manners in his first try at feeding himself, but only in the same way that it’s possible that he will jump straight from crawling to doing cartwheels – in an infinite number of potential universes, anything is possible, but the probability that he will have the self-control, motor control, and understanding of what mealtime is supposed to look like enough to eat in a way that won’t leave a mess is very low.
    Unless you think Baby is probably the cartwheeling future-dinner-party-guest who proves the rule, you might want to start by putting a plastic tablecloth, newspaper, or part of an old shower curtain down on the floor around the base of his high chair before you let the games begin. As you already know just from mealtimes where Baby isn’t at the wheel of his own feeding, bibs are one way to keep some of the food that doesn’t make it into his mouth where it belongs, but they’re no guarantee about the rest of his body. One way to solve that is just to get a bigger bib, but many parents find that in early self-feeding adventures, it can be easiest to just let Baby eat in his diaper, and then put his dinner-covered body straight into the tub afterwards.
  3. Where to start
    Just like when you started Baby on solids, the foods you start offering him when he starts out feeding himself are mostly up to you. Whatever they are, they should be soft enough that Baby can chew them with his gums. Starting with a familiar flavor you know he likes is a good place to begin.
    Offering Baby smaller portions to begin with may help discourage him from making too much of a mess, but as he starts feeding himself, he is probably going to play with his food a little, and now isn’t the time to discourage that. Playing with his food is how Baby learns about textures, and stays happily engaged in learning about the culinary arts.
  4. The march of progress
    In the next couple of months, Baby will start refining his ‘pincer grasp,’ which lets him pick objects up first between his thumb and all four fingers and then, later, his thumb and pointer-finger.
    As Baby grows more and more comfortable with finger food, he will probably start showing an interest in silverware. His learning curve with it may follow the same path as learning to eat with his fingers – messy and playful at first, as he figures out how to manipulate the silverware. Spoons are a great place to start, and especially bigger baby spoons with soft edges for while he is getting the hang of using them.

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