Babies can often try feeding themselves with their hands from around eight months of age. It might take them a while to get things into their mouths, though. At first, they often squash food between their palms and their mouths.
Finger foods and using a spoon
Finger foods such as pieces of soft fruit encourage babies to feed themselves. Feeding themselves – even if they don’t do a great job of it – builds their confidence. Don’t worry – your baby will get better at it!
Although most babies are fairly uncoordinated with a spoon until they’re about 18 months, it’s worth giving them one to practise with from a much earlier age. Usually they’ll let you know when they want to start, by constantly reaching for the spoon. You can feed your baby with one spoon while your baby experiments with another one.
Playing with food
Mess-making is all part of your baby’s first attempts to learn to eat independently. To make mealtimes less stressful, it can help if you:
- put a plastic sheet or newspaper under the highchair
- use a bib
- cut food into strips or fingers so that it is easier to eat
- let your baby eat with her hands.
If you get upset when your baby throws food on the floor, baby might think it’s an exciting new game. The more you react, the more interesting the game seems! A way around this is to simply say ‘no’, and then pick up the food later.
Using a cup
Babies can learn to drink from a cup from an early age. You might be breastfeeding and want to organise for someone else to give your baby a feed sometimes (so that you can pop out to the supermarket or see a movie, for instance). You can teach your baby to drink expressed milk with a cup and spoon if you prefer not to offer a bottle.
Once your baby has reached six months, you can introduce new liquids such as water. While you might use a bottle for water, a cup is better for other liquids. Bottles make it easier for your baby to drink too much milk (or other liquid), resulting in a tummy too full for food.
Over the longer term, using bottles can also lead to tooth decay. This problem might come up if babies go to bed with their bottles and fall asleep with milk in their mouths. The milk contains natural sugars, which then pool around babies’ teeth through the night. This is less likely with a cup.