learning to self-feed
Babies, Nutrition, Tips / How-Tos

Helping Your Baby Learn to Self-Feed

Once your baby begins reaching for their spoon, bowl or even the food on your plate, they may be ready to try self-feeding. Your baby’s eating development goes hand-in-hand with their motor skills, and developing the ability to feed themselves is one of the hallmarks of babies moving from purees to finger foods. Here are some tips and guidelines for helping your baby learn to self-feed.

When should my baby be able to self-feed?

Babies typically show an interest in self-feeding around 9 to 12 months of age, although it varies based on their development. Some babies will need more time to develop their self-feeding skills, especially since they are learning the pincer grasp to pick up small pieces of food.

How do I help my baby self-feed with baby-led weaning?

Some babies start their eating journey by feeding themselves soft, squishy foods, instead of beginning with single-ingredient purees. This food introduction method is called baby-led weaning. Parents may start their babies on baby-led weaning as early as 6 months of age. At this point, your baby won’t be able to develop their pincer grasp, but they can learn to grab bigger pieces of food with their entire hand. Soft, large pieces of vegetables and ripe fruits are great foods to start with for baby-led weaning.

What are signs that my baby is able to self-feed?

Once your baby is comfortable eating combination purees from a spoon, look for these signs that they may be ready to self-feed:

  • Bringing food and other things to their mouth during mealtime and playtime
  • Reaching for their bowl, tray or spoon during mealtime
  • Grabbing at your food or your plate
  • Pushing away your hand when you’re trying to feed them

Pay attention to these readiness cues before introducing finger foods to your baby. Even if your baby is 9 or 10 months old, they may not be completely ready to self-feed if they don’t exhibit these signs.

How do I teach my baby to self-feed?

Your baby will learn how to self-feed by observing how kids and adults eat. As they transition to self-feeding, eat alongside your baby so they can watch how you interact with your food. You can even demonstrate how to pick up their foods during mealtime. Provide a few “food play” opportunities daily so your baby can develop their pincer grasp and other skills.

You’ll also want to provide your baby the best finger foods to start their self-feeding. These finger foods should be big enough to pick up but small enough to prevent choking. Peas, soft carrots and cubed butternut squash are great finger foods for your baby to practice their pincer grasp. Make sure you offer a variety of finger foods on their high chair that are easy to pick up.

Nurture Life’s finger foods meet your baby’s nutritional and developmental needs. We recommend starting with veggie-focused finger foods when they’re just learning to pick up foods, such as our Ratatouille Pasta or our Carrot, Pea & Yam

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What if my baby gags during self-feeding?

Gagging is a natural occurrence when babies are presented with new textures. As long as their gagging doesn’t cause them distress (such as crying, vomiting or choking), they should be motivated to continue—just make sure that they are able to pass food safely.

While some gagging is OK, too much gagging during mealtime can lead to negative associations with eating. Avoid repeated negative associations with feeding, for this may cause an eating aversion. You may also consider changing the size or consistency of the food to limit the amount of gagging.

Which foods should be avoided when my baby is beginning to self-feed?

As your baby’s teeth aren’t fully developed, you should provide them with soft foods. Babies can’t properly chew their food until their 2-year molars come in, so they won’t be able to chew hard food. To see if their food is soft enough, take a piece of their food and try to mash it between your fingers. If you can’t easily mash it, it’s probably too hard for your baby.

When should my baby be able to use utensils?

It’s never too early to start using utensils! Offer them at mealtimes, and let your baby get used to them being present. Try loading food onto the utensil and handing it to them. Pre-loading a spoon can help them focus on bringing the spoon to their mouth while balancing the food. Also, consider using 2 spoons during mealtime: one for baby and one for you. This allows you to feed your baby a few bites as they begin experimenting with their new utensil!

Your baby’s self-feeding is an exciting step in their eating development. They’ll work on developing fine motor skills and will begin to understand their hunger and fullness cues. Learning to pick up foods and feed themselves may take time, so remember to be patient during mealtime. If your baby isn’t able to self-feed enough foods to satiate them, alternate feeding them finger foods or purees from a spoon. Before you know it, they’ll be feeding themselves from their high chair and will begin learning how to use utensils.

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Lara Field at Nurture Life

Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.