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 her independence with food. She used to be totally dependent on you for sustenance, but soon she will be ready to feed themselves. She’s not quite there yet, though, and as she starts working on the shift from being fed to feeding themselves, she’ll need your help making for the transition.

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

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