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 their independence with food. They used to be totally dependent on you for sustenance, but soon they will be ready to feed themself. They're not quite there yet, though, and as they start working on the shift from being fed to feeding themself, they'll need your help making for the transition.

  1. Try it on Baby’s time
    Baby will let you know when they are ready to start trying to feed themself by taking an interest in the food you’re feeding either yourself and the rest of your family, or the food you’re feeding them.
    They may not quite have the motor skills to feed themself everything they need at first, so when it looks like they are done practicing shoving finger foods into their mouth, try offering them a bite from your fingers or a spoon. If Baby doesn’t want it, they are probably ready to be done with mealtime, but if they eat up, they probably just need a little help getting all of the nutrients they need 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 themself, 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 their first try at feeding themself, but only in the same way that it’s possible that they will jump straight from crawling to doing cartwheels – in an infinite number of potential universes, anything is possible, but the probability that they 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 their high chair before you let the games begin. As you already know just from mealtimes where Baby isn’t at the wheel of their own feeding, bibs are one way to keep some of the food that doesn’t make it into their mouth where it belongs, but they’re no guarantee about the rest of their 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 their diaper, and then put their 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 them when they start out feeding themself are mostly up to you. Whatever they are, they should be soft enough that Baby can chew them with their gums. Starting with a familiar flavor you know they like is a good place to begin.
    Offering Baby smaller portions to begin with may help discourage them from making too much of a mess, but as they start feeding themself, they are probably going to play with their food a little, and now isn’t the time to discourage that. Playing with their 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 their ‘pincer grasp,’ which lets them pick objects up first between their thumb and all four fingers and then, later, their thumb and pointer-finger.
    As Baby grows more and more comfortable with finger food, they will probably start showing an interest in silverware. Their learning curve with it may follow the same path as learning to eat with their fingers – messy and playful at first, as they figure out how to manipulate the silverware. Spoons are a great place to start, and especially bigger baby spoons with soft edges for while they are getting the hang of using them.

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