When can babies start feeding themselves?

Baby is growing more and more independent every day, and now that he is starting to eat foods across the solid spectrum, he may be growing more and more interested in the way you and the rest of his non-infant family members eat. There’s still a pretty huge gap between the way the grown-ups eat and the way Baby has been eating, but his interest is a good sign that he is ready to start bridging that gap.

Timeline

Most babies start being able to feed themselves finger foods around the time they start being able to lift small objects with their fingers, which can happen any time between 6 and 10 months. Baby will probably grow into the dexterity to use a spoon when he is around a year old (though that’ll go more smoothly if he gets the chance to practice for a while first), and a fork not long after that, though he may still be a bit of a messy eater for a while.

First finger foods

The important thing about early finger foods is that they’re small enough for Baby’s fingers and small enough not to be a choking hazard, and easy enough to mash up with his still-mostly-bare gums. At this point, Baby may still be getting the majority of his nutrients from formula or breast milk, and so the most important part of the process is the practice Baby is getting with eating.

Cereals that dissolve easily, soft, well-cooked vegetables like carrots or celery, and soft meats cut up into pea-sized pieces can be good places to start. Raw vegetables, cherry tomatoes and hot dogs, on the other hand, can be choking hazards, even when they’re cut up.

At first, when Baby is using his hands to rake through food, or when he is just starting to get a feel for the pincer-like grabbing motion that comes next in his development, eating this way can take a long time, possibly longer than you have. Baby feeding themselves isn’t a process that needs to happen all at once, though. If it’s taking Baby a while to pick up speed with eating finger food, you can let him practice at the beginning or end of the meal, then take over feeding him.

Spoon tips

Baby will be ready to start using a spoon around one, but he will probably start showing an interest in spoons even sooner. If you let him hold a baby spoon on his own while you feed him, he will be able to start to get familiar with the spoon, and how to hold it. Just like when Baby was just starting to eat finger food, letting him practice a little near the beginning or end of the meal can give him a big head-start in learning to eat with one.

When Baby is just starting to eat with a spoon, thicker substances, like yogurt, can be easier for him to handle, since thin liquids slip off the spoon so easily.

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