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Starting solids with your baby can be a roller coaster experience, and a messy one at that! And just when you thought it couldn’t get messier, you hear that your baby should be self-feeding! But what exactly does self-feeding entail? And is it really any better than spoon feeding your baby yourself? Let’s take a deep dive into the messy adventure of starting solids, and explore who should be in charge of the spoon!
Self-feeding is a weaning method where you let your baby take the lead (and the spoon!). Instead of feeding bub yourself, self-feeding involves your baby bringing food to their own mouth to eat.
Learning to feed themself is a really important stage in your baby’s development and here are a few of the reasons why:
Here are some of the signs that your baby may be ready for this next step:
When your baby begins to show these signs, it’s best to give them as many opportunities as you can to allow them to practise these skills. You can let them practise during meal times by giving them a spoon to play with.
To your baby, feeding themself can be a tricky concept that will probably take a while to perfect. As frustrating and messy as it can get, it’s important to encourage bub to keep trying time and time again. Remember, your baby is in charge of self-feeding, so let them take their time to master this skill.
Start off small! To first expose your baby to the concept of self-feeding, place some soft finger foods in their reach/ on their high chair. These could be something like:
You may find that bub may only play with the food the first few times you put it out in front of them- that’s totally fine! While we know you’d probably much rather it in their mouth, your baby will learn so much about different foods and textures just from playing with it.
Most babies won’t be able to perfect their pincer grip or confidently use a spoon properly until they are about 18 months old. Here are some ways to encourage them to start using one and practice perfecting their skill:
Always supervise- As your baby begins to eat more independently, it’s important you continue to monitor their mealtimes very closely. Make sure your child is seated upright and not playing or crawling around on the floor. It’s also important to monitor their tolerance to new textures as you introduce them.
Know the difference between choking and gagging- Gagging is a very common and actually normal occurrence when your baby starts to try new foods. Gagging is your baby’s defence against choking and can often happen when your baby has too much food in their mouth or hasn’t chewed their food enough. While your baby may be scared and throw you into panic mode, the gag reflex will help bring the food back to the front of the mouth so your baby can chew it more efficiently. On the other hand, choking is when the airway is blocked, causing your baby to stop breathing. Your baby may go silent or flail their arms- this requires immediate action.
Prepare for the mess- There will be a lot of it! Here are some ways to deal with the mess:
Praise the small wins, and ignore the big throws- We know it can be super frustrating to be constantly picking up food off the floor that you wished ended up in bub’s mouth. One way to deal with your baby dropping or throwing food on the floor is to simply ignore it. If you constantly react when food lands on the floor, they may think it’s a game and continue to do it. Instead, calmly pick up the food without a fuss or leave the food on the floor until the meal is over so you only have one clean up to do.
On the other hand, it’s really important to praise your baby on all their little achievements as they begin to feed themself. They’ll need this positive encouragement to keep trying and improving.
Be patient- Your baby is in charge when it comes to self-feeding, so let them practise and only step in to assist when they need help. Try not to rush them to finish their meals- the skill of self feeding is also teaching your baby to listen to their hunger cues at the same time (a really really important skill you’ll want them to carry through their life).
Spoon feeding is a traditional weaning method that simply means you use a spoon to put food in your baby’s mouth. This is most common when using purees to start your baby’s solids journey, instead of baby led weaning.
Of course there are positives to this approach:
Spoon feeding can still come in handy in the early stages of teaching your baby how to feed themself. When your baby is first exploring how to bring food to their own mouth and is mainly just playing with their food, spoon feeding may be the only way to actually get some food (and nutrients) into their mouth.
Learning how to handle a spoon to bring food to their own mouth is a long process that can take months! So bub will still need your help for a while with certain foods like yoghurt and cereal.
When spoon feeding your baby, there’s a few techniques to remember to ensure your baby has a positive eating experience:
Whether you are spoon feeding or teaching your baby to self-feed, the main goal is to cultivate a safe and enjoyable eating experience without the stress. As bub takes the lead, your role is to be a friendly supporter; assisting their skill development and modelling safe eating techniques. So while this may be a very messy and slightly stressful journey, remember that each meal time is an opportunity for your baby to develop and perfect new skills they’ll use for the rest of their life!