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 she wants to go back in time to the days when you were feeding her, there’s a good chance that she is just a little nervous about how fast she is 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 your baby a little, especially once you already know that she can feed herself.
If your baby is just having a hard time making the initial transition from being fed to self-feeding, there’s no need to rush her unless the doctor is concerned, or you feel she isn’t getting enough to eat. You can encourage your baby to start feeding herself by making sure that if you’re feeding her finger foods, there are in pieces that are the right size for her to grasp, as well as to eat without choking.
In some cases, just giving your child the space to explore her meals at her own pace. If you turn your focus towards something else in the room, and leave your baby alone with her dinner, she may start to investigate the food she previously refused all on her own.
If you’re spoon-feeding your baby, let her hold her own spoon while you do, so she can start to make the connection between the spoon and her yummy dinner, and work on her coordination at the same time. If your baby is still working out the ins and outs of eating, and she is used to seeing you feed her, she may also go through a phase that involves trying to feed you, your partner, or the dog or cat, more than trying to feed herself. This phase can be cute but also a little frustrating, so spending some time eating around your baby so she has a model for self-feeding can also help.
If your 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 her 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.