Help! My baby won’t self-feed

Plenty of babies take the decision about when to start self-feeding into their own tiny hands by grabbing the spoon straight from the hands of a parent or caregiver (or the food straight off of the spoon), but others don’t seem to have any interest in feeding themselves when they can get their parents, other family members, or caregivers to do it for them. Others will self-feed happily right up until the day when they go on a mysterious strike and expect to be fed by a caregiver again. In themselves, none of these three situations are reasons to worry, but in a few cases, at a certain point, refusal to self-feed can be a sign of a medical problem or developmental delay.

If a baby who has been a strong self-feeder in the past has decided they want to go back in time to the days when you were feeding them, there’s a good chance that they are just a little nervous about how fast they are growing up, and is hoping for a way to stay a baby a little while longer. Growing up is scary, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging Baby a little, especially once you already know that they can feed themself.

If Baby is just having a hard time making the initial transition from being fed to self-feeding, there’s no need to rush them unless the doctor is concerned, or you feel they isn’t getting enough to eat. You can encourage Baby to start feeding themself by making sure that if you’re feeding them finger foods, there are in pieces that are the right size for them to grasp, as well as to eat without choking.

In some cases, just giving your child the space to explore their meals at their own pace will mean that they may start to investigate the food they previously refused all on their own.

If you’re spoon-feeding Baby, let them hold their own spoon while you do, so they can start to make the connection between the spoon and their yummy dinner, and work on their coordination at the same time. If Baby is still working out the ins and outs of eating, and they are used to seeing you feed them, they may also go through a phase that involves trying to feed you, your partner, or the dog or cat, more than trying to feed themself. This phase can be cute but also a little frustrating, so spending some time eating around Baby so they have a model for self-feeding can also help.

If Baby won’t accept solids at all, is not gaining weight at the expected rate, or seems to have trouble or pain while chewing, your pediatrician may want to take a closer look at them to make sure nothing more serious is wrong. For the most part, though, delays in self-feeding come down to the fact that babies go through an immense number of serious changes during their first few years of life, and different rates of development and interest are just to be expected.

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