Encouraging your little one to self-feed can come with many benefits. And with approaches like baby-led weaning (BLW) on the rise, is self-feeding worth all the mess?
Is Teaching Your Baby to Self-Feed Worth All The Mess?
Self-feeding is an exciting developmental milestone. It's one of the first signs your baby is growing to become an independent little person! Most babies try self-feeding at about 8 months of age. After hitting the 6 month mark, some parents choose to feed their babies purees before introducing finger foods at about 7 months.Others may also choose a baby-led weaning (BLW) approach where babies feed themselves soft foods after 6 months (when babies first start sampling solids).
Why you should teach your baby to self-feed
Self-feeding may look like it’s simply the ultimate display of a baby's ability to wreak havoc and make a mess out of their food. But self-feeding may actually come with many benefits. In fact, baby-led weaning, for instance, encourages independence through self-feeding when babies are ready to start solid foods.
One of the main benefits of self-feeding in general is that it helps fine-tune motor development. It improves a baby’s hand movements and hand-eye coordination. It also helps the child by cultivating the habit of chewing and getting used to a wide variety of food tastes and textures. Getting your baby exposed to these senses can raise a less fussy eater. Another alleged benefit is that self-feeding babies may be able to respond better to hunger and fullness cues.
Concerns regarding the risk of choking and undernutrition have been raised on the efficacy of starting self-feeding from as early as 6 months in a BLW approach. But with effective risk mitigation by avoiding foods that are easy to choke on and making sure your child gets the nutrition they need, self-feeding can prove to be a valuable skill!
You don't need to follow a BLW approach to encourage self-feeding. You may choose to take your time with teaching your child this skill while slowly reaping the benefits and making sure your baby gets the nutrition they need. Whether you should follow a BLW approach is something you should discuss with your paediatrician especially since every child develops at a different pace and not all 6 month old babies will be ready.
How should you approach self-feeding?
Teaching your baby how to self-feed can be a slow and messy process.
Here are some tips that may help with self-feeding:
- Offer finger foods – these can help your child handle food in manageable sizes
- Give your baby plenty of time to practice – recognize that self-feeding can take time
- Reuse leftovers whenever possible so the food your baby doesn't eat isn't going to waste
- Let your baby eat with the rest of the family and set a good example
After your baby becomes comfortable eating with their hands, you should start offering utensils. Children generally get used to using utensils after 18 to 24 months.
Before taking a baby-led weaning approach or teaching your baby to self-feed, you need to realize that every baby is different. Babies with developmental delays or neurological issues should be introduced to solids more traditionally. Also, make sure you watch out for choking or allergies. Foods that can pose a choking hazard like raisins, grapes, nuts and whole peas should be avoided.
As always, make sure you consult your paediatrician before introducing solids to your baby!