Although it will likely be a long time before your baby is really able to eat without any assistance, the early attempts at self-feeding are an important first step to your baby’s independence. From learning to pick up foods with her fingers to figuring out the fork and spoon, self-feeding is a process that takes a long time and lot of practice. Help your baby get started with the right foods and a little help.
Learning the Pincer Grasp
Around 8-10 months of age, your baby will start using her thumbs and fingers to pick up small objects, including foods. You will see a progression from baby using all of her fingers to scoop food into her fist, towards a more precise pincer grasp that uses only the thumb and forefinger to pick up objects one at a time. This pincer grasp is a good sign your baby is getting ready to self-feed with finger foods.
Offer a small pile of small but easy to grasp food like Cheerios cereal for your baby to practice on. At first, she probably won’t get much into her mouth, but it’s the practice that matters. As baby masters this skill, she will soon be able to eat a wide variety of finger foods without assistance. You should always keep a close eye on baby during these early attempts at self-feeding, as she is not used to the foods and there is a risk of choking. Make sure the choice of baby foods will soften quickly in the mouth to avoid serious choking.
From the earliest feedings, your baby will probably show a great interest in the spoon. To get him used to the idea, bring two spoons to every feeding, and let him play with one while you feed him with the other. At first, that will be the extent of his spoon skills, but as time goes by you can let him start dipping his own spoon into the food and attempting to bring it to his mouth.
When you move on to chunkier foods, consider giving your baby a small fork (choose one that is intended for babies and not for grown-ups, with a short, easy to grasp handle and tines that are not too sharp) to attempt to pick up food. Because using a spoon requires more steadiness and skill, your baby will likely figure out the fork a little faster. This will encourage him to try harder with the spoon, as each success teaches him a little more and gets him excited about self-feeding.
Good Foods for Early Self-feeding
When teaching baby to self feed with a fork, try foods like pasta, small chunks of cooked vegetables, small pieces of fruit and cooked beans. For learning to use a spoon, it’s best to try thick foods such as oatmeal and yogurt. Thinner foods will be much harder for baby to keep on the spoon and will make a huge mess while frustrating your baby.
Stick to small bites of soft foods that are easy to chew, and bear in mind that early self-feeders often stuff way more food than they can handle into their mouths, so be on the lookout. Most babies will spit it out, but there is always a risk of choking. All self-feeding should be closely supervised until your baby starts to master it – and even then, stay close and keep an eye out!