Letting your baby feed themselves can be messy and frustrating, but it is an important stage of development. Not only is feeding themselves an important skill, but they are also learning about taste, touch, texture and fine motor skills like learning to use a spoon. Your child might show signs of wanting to feed themselves by reaching for the spoon or taking food off your plate. This is normal and you should encourage it.
Where to start
Finger foods are the best place to start, offering soft bite-sized pieces of food that are easy to pick up and mash between his gums or teeth. You could try:
- Small pieces of soft fruit – banana, ripe pear
- Soft-cooked vegetables – pumpkin, potato, carrot
Start by placing a few pieces of food in front of your baby, and add more when he/she has finished them (or drops them). This will ensure that all the food doesn’t end up on the floor from the start. It is normal for baby to drop or throw food. Most babies won’t master using a spoon until they’re about 18 months, but letting them hold and play with the spoon much earlier will help them develop these skills. You can try giving your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him/her with another spoon.
- Always supervise your child while they are eating, and ensure they are sitting up
- Avoid whole nuts or hard foods, like chopped carrot, while your baby is learning to eat. These foods can be a choking hazard
- Reduce mess by putting on a bib and putting a plastic sheet under the high chair (e.g. shower curtain)
- Feeding your baby outside can also help manage mess
- Ignore food being thrown. Calmly pick it up or leave until they are finished. Making a fuss might make them think it is a game
Using a cup
From 6 months old your baby can start using a cup to drink. Allowing them to play with the cup will help them learn how to hold it. Initially, you may guide her by holding the cup as well or show them how it’s done by drinking from a cup yourself. Fill the cup only half full and use water to help minimise spills.
Children aged 6-12 months should only be having cooled boiled water, breastmilk or infant formula from a cup. Avoid drinks like fruit juice, soft drinks and flavoured milks, as they have a lot of sugar and increase the risk of tooth decay.