Helping babies eat on their own
- Try it on your baby’s time
your baby will let you know when she is ready to start trying to feed herself 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 herself 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 your 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.
- Prepare for things to get messy
No one actually wants the kitchen disaster-area scene that happens when your baby first starts to feed herself, but it’s probably not something you can avoid entirely. Every baby is different, so it’s possible that your baby will take to neat-eating and perfect table manners in her first try at feeding herself, 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 your 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 your 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 your baby eat in her diaper, and then put her dinner-covered body straight into the tub afterwards.
- Where to start
Just like when you started your baby on solids, the foods you start offering her when she starts out feeding herself are mostly up to you. Whatever they are, they should be soft enough that your baby can chew them with her gums. Starting with a familiar flavor you know she likes is a good place to begin.
Offering your baby smaller portions to begin with may help discourage her from making too much of a mess, but as she starts feeding herself, 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 your baby learns about textures, and stays happily engaged in learning about the culinary arts.
- The march of progress
In the next couple of months, your 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 your 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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