Learning how to self-feed is an important milestone in your baby’s development. The messy, but fun, process of teaching your baby how to use a spoon will be the next step in your baby’s journey to self-feeding.
Teaching your baby how to self-feed is going to be a messy process, but will be worth it in the long run. Your baby's motor skills and development will benefit from learning how to self-feed so it is important to encourage this process to your baby. As you begin to approach the age where your baby is ready to start learning how to self-feed, here is everything you should consider.
Where To Start
Before you start to think about introducing a spoon to your baby, you first will want to make sure your baby has been introduced to finger foods. This first step will help your baby begin to develop their motor skills which are necessary to have before figuring out how to use a spoon.
Beginning with finger foods, start with soft foods that you can easily smash with your fingers. This will be the safest and easiest place to start for your baby. Foods such as soft cooked noodles, cut bananas, or steamed veggies are all a good place to begin. Choosing foods that can be cut up into bigger chunks will also make it easier for your baby to be able to pick up.
If you have only been feeding your baby soft foods and purees on your own, you should wait to introduce a spoon until after you have introduced finger foods. At around 12 months, most babies should be feeding themselves finger foods. It is around this stage that you can start to introduce a spoon.
Next Step: Introducing the Spoon
Now that your baby has gotten comfortable with finger feeding, you can take the next step on the self-feeding journey by introducing their first utensil, a spoon. The CDC recommends waiting to introduce a spoon to your baby until they are around 10-12 months old. However, there is no specific age or time that your baby should developmentally be using a spoon. There are many factors that can have an influence on the timing of your baby learning to use a spoon.
- Fine motor skill development
- Interest in eating independently
- Time they have been eating solid foods
- First introduced to finger foods
These are all factors that can influence when your baby starts to use a spoon to self-feed. Every child is unique so do not worry about whether or not your baby is successfully learning to use a spoon. They will get there eventually!
Signs They Might Be Ready
It can be tricky to know whether or not your baby is ready to take the next step in their development. One sign that your baby is likely ready to start using a spoon on their own is with their body language. Infants typically will turn their heads and clamp their mouth to signal they are full, after the meal. The opposite holds true as they get older. Toddlers will often start to get fussy or throw a tantrum before a meal. If you are noticing that they are appearing disinterested in the spoon you are trying to feed them, let themselves give it a try. This might be their way of telling you they are ready to be more independent.
Learn more from Pediatrician Dr. David Hill from the American Academy of Pediatrics about when your baby is ready for solids:
Depending on your baby, these milestones will be reached at different times than the families around you. However, here is a general guide to understanding when you should plan on your baby reaching these steps to independently self-feeding.
- 6 months: You can begin to start introducing finger foods to build your baby’s fine motor skills. Remember to choose foods that are soft and easy to squish to avoid any choking hazards.
- 12 months: Around their first birthday, your baby will likely begin showing an interest in using a spoon themselves. This is when you can begin letting your child feed themselves thick, soft foods like oatmeal, yogurt, or applesauce.
- 15-22 months: Your toddlers should be able to start getting the hang of feeding themselves with a spoon. Around this time, you should also be able to introduce using a fork to feed themselves.
Every baby is different when it comes to reaching these developmental milestones. You should never focus too much on whether or not your baby is “on track.” With both time and practice, your baby will get there.
What are the Benefits of Self-Feeding?
Self-feeding is your baby’s first step to independence. In addition to the new confidence and sense of freedom your baby is experiencing, self-feeding is beneficial to their overall development in the following ways.
- Learning to grasp and hold things firmly
- Gaining hand-eye coordination (learning spatial awareness, strengthening their “visual motor skills”)
- Refining Sensory Process skills (the different textures and sensations of the food they are touching will help to build their sensory processing skills)
Things to Consider
Picking the Right Spoon
In general, any spoon that is not too heavy for your baby to hold is the right spoon. However, it is probably a good idea to purchase a set of spoons that are actually designed to be used for babies. Look for spoons that have a wide, chubby handle that will make it easy for your baby to grab and pick up. A spoon made of rubber or silicone will also be better for your baby because of the soft texture and grippy material.
Foods to Start With
Get ready for a big mess when it comes to your baby learning how to use a spoon. At first, your baby will likely spend more time exploring and playing with their food, rather than actually eating it. Start with thick foods that will easily stay on the spoon as they learn how to balance and bring the spoon to their mouth. Here are some recommended foods to start with.
- Cottage cheese
- Mashed peas/carrots
- Mashed potatoes
Introducing the Fork
So, your baby has now mastered the spoon and is ready for their next big step: the fork. It is usually recommended to introduce the spoon before the fork, because a spoon is typically easier for a baby to learn at first. However, some babies do pick up on the fork easier because it requires less balancing and they can stab the food. You will likely want to introduce the fork at around 16-18 months, to give your baby time to first practice and focus on learning how to use a spoon.
With so many huge developmental milestones being achieved, your baby is rapidly developing. Once your baby has been introduced to the spoon and fork, you can consider moving them from the high chair to a booster seat at the table. By bringing your baby to the table to eat with you, you can help them develop their motor skills quicker. This gives them the opportunity to observe and mirror your actions.
How Can I Help the Process?
The best way you can help your baby is to simply let them experience and explore this new skill for themselves. At first, you'll probably notice that your baby spends more time playing and waving the spoon around. But eventually, they will start to pick up on how to actually use the tool for their self-feeding benefit.
This is a messy, but fun, process. Look into some rubber or silicone splat mats to make the clean up aftermath easier for you. Other than letting your baby explore and have fun with the learning process, here are some things you can do to help your baby with practicing their new skill.
- Demonstrate it for them: Your baby is looking to you for guidance, so show them how it is done! Have them watch you use a spoon to feed yourself the yogurt or oatmeal and then have them try it for themselves. Over time, they will continue to mirror your actions for how to self-feed.
- Hand-Over-Hand Method: First, let your baby grab for the spoon themselves. Once they are holding the spoon, see if they can dip the spoon and scoop up the food. You can place your hand over their hand and help guide the food into their mouth. Your baby is still learning all the basics like where their mouth even is and how to scoop food using the spoon so you can help show them the ropes for the first few times.
- Stick to Thick Foods: To make it easier for your baby to scoop and bring the food into their mouth, stick to thick foods at first. Avoid foods that can easily fly off the spoon (rice, cereal, etc.) until they have gotten used to the process.
Baby-Led Weaning: What is it?
Baby-Led Weaning is a popular form of teaching self-feeding. The process skips feeding soft foods and purees and goes straight to finger foods starting at around 6 months. Registered dietician, Clancy Cash Harrison, author of Feeding Baby, says “Baby-led weaning supports the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy eating habits,” she says. “It also offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and color of a variety of foods.”
What makes baby-led weaning successful, is that your baby will recognize that in order to eat, they need to learn how to do it themselves. It gives an extra nudge into independence. However, parents can obviously step in when needed, in order to make sure their baby is getting enough nutrition from food.
Starting at about 6 months, or whenever your baby is able to sit unassisted in a high chair, you can begin baby-led weaning. Your baby might not have fully developed their chewing skills so breast milk or formula will still need to be their main source of nutrition until at least 10 months old.
The best foods to begin with are soft, easy to squish foods like bananas, steamed broccoli, or avocado. Try cutting the foods into bigger pieces to make it easier for them to pick up. By starting at 6 months, you will help your baby develop the pincer grasp. When considering foods to start with, texture is key. Since your baby does not have the fully developed chewing skills, you will want to make sure any food you are giving them is very soft to avoid a choking hazard.
If you are thinking of starting baby-led weaning, consider a mixed approach. The first few months of baby-led weaning might be more exploring, and less eating. Do not feel pressure to fully abandon breast milk, formula, or purees. Not all children will be ready for baby-led weaning and finger feeding at 6 months. Focus on making sure your baby is getting enough food, rather than trying to get them to self-feed.
The most important thing to take away from both self-feeding and baby-led weaning is to let your baby lead the process. Let them be the one to reach for the spoon, show their curiosity, and explore their growing independence. Your baby will be most successful if you let them guide you in this process.
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