Although you may not realize it, mealtime is a learning experience for your baby. The skills developed through self-feeding are crucial and it will provide many benefits as your baby ages.
As an occupational therapist, my goal is to encourage independence in my clients
Allowing your baby to be in full control of their food intake will help them to develop their independence all while experiencing new tastes, textures, and smells. This should give them a better experience during mealtimes and hopefully expand their favorite foods.
Did you know: The human brain grows fastest during the first
Starting your child off with a wide variety of experiences will help their brain to produce vast connections and development, leading to a smarter, more experienced child.
How I started solids with my babies
I chose to do a modified Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach when feeding both of my children. I started offering them solid foods at 6 months old and we never used purees or mashed baby food at all.
They were eating whole pieces of foods in it’s natural form and finger feeding themselves since they first started eating.
I loved this approach because it helped them become more independent in their feeding skills early on. I was also less nervous about choking episodes when they started eating harder-to-chew foods because they had been chewing and feeding themselves for so long.
For more detailed information about Baby Led Weaning and starting out with these foods, here is a great guide for you. Also, read my post on Quick and Simple First Foods For Your Baby (Modified Baby Led Weaning Approach) that gives a comprehensive list of my favorite non-pureed foods to give to my young babies.
9 Benefits to Self-Feeding for Babies
Below you will find the reasons that self-feeding can be so helpful for your baby. I’ll explain how it provides a dynamic learning experience and
1. Mealtime is the ultimate sensory experience
When eating, your baby is using multiple sensory systems at once. They are experiencing different textures inside their mouth, scents as the smell reaches their nose, and different tastes while they’re eating and swallowing.
When your baby feeds themselves, they have the opportunity to experience the sensations of different textures while using their hands. They can feel wet, dry, mushy, hard, soft, and crumbly.
Just touching these various types of foods can open up a whole new sensory experience that they may love or even hate.
Some babies and children have a strong dislike for certain textures. They may not like touching or eating some foods that feel a specific way.
If your child is one of those who doesn’t like certain textures: providing them with early exposure to all different ones can help to expand their sensory system. This will hopefully get them used to feeling and tasting different items so they’re not so upset when touching new textures.
2. They can feel and see what they’re tasting
Think about if someone were to constantly shovel food into your mouth, never even giving you a glimpse of what it is. You would never know what you’re going to taste, what’s being given to you, or even how much you will have to eat.
By letting your baby be in control of their mealtimes, they can understand better what they’re tasting because they’re also seeing and feeling it. This way, next time they see the same food they will remember what it’s going to taste like.
3. Development of early independence
This sense of control that your little one will develop is great for their sense of independence going into toddlerhood. Although you will still be in control of the foods that get put on their tray, they can decide how much they want to eat and how they will eat it.
Whether they will use their hands or utensils is up to you and it’s great for your child to learn both. With utensils, you should still be there to help guide their hands and motions to their mouth, but with finger feeding, they can be fully on their own.
4. Learn to use utensils and other feeding gear
Learning how to use utensils at a young age is
I highly recommend Grabease Utensils for babies under 1. They conform perfectly to little hands and have a choke guard so they can’t stick it too far into their mouth. I can’t say enough good things about these utensils!
Get them used to
You can do hand over hand (place their hand on the utensil with your hand over theirs to guide them) to let them understand how the utensils work.
You should also get them started using a sippy cup with water early on. Straw cups are the best for your child’s oral motor development (over standard sippy cups). I love these Munchkin Weighted Straw Cups for when
The 2 handles are super easy for your baby to hold and it’s simple to learn to suck through this straw. Avoid regular hard spout sippy cups because these can
Related Post: Why Straw Cups are the Best To Use With Your Baby
5. It can be a playtime activity!
Having trouble finding activities for your baby to do throughout the day? Plop them in their high chair and let them feed themselves! It’s a great way to keep them confined in one space while offering them an activity.
Even if your baby isn’t a big eater, they will still think of this as a fun, play experience!
If you’re still attempting to get your baby to try new foods and textures, having them ‘play with their food’ is a great start. The more they touch, feel, and get used to these foods, the more they will be willing to bring it to their mouth- even by accident!!
Remember, they don’t have to eat everything that is on their tray. They don’t even have to eat any of it at all!
For babies under 1, their primary source of nutrition is through breastmilk or formula. As long as they are getting the recommended amount (24-32oz per day) of liquid feedings, you don’t have to worry about them eating too little.
6. Allows them to control their own hunger and fullness
If your baby doesn’t eat too much, don’t force it on them. Once they realize that they’re not being force-fed, they may end up really liking the whole experience of mealtime.
This is the perfect way to let them feel in control of what they’r eating. Just put the desired foods on their tray and let them pick what they want to eat and how much of it.
By giving them control of their mealtimes, you’re instilling independence and self-determination in your child which are powerful skills to have.
You will still be in control of what food items you are giving them. Enjoy that now because once they’re toddlers, they will tell you what they want to eat!
7. Develops motor skills
When you allow your baby to self-feed, they’ll be using their hands, eyes, and mouth in many different ways that they may not have exposure to using toys or other objects.
They’ll be practicing fine motor (small and precise movements of the hands and fingers), gross motor (larger movements using arms and shoulders), and hand-eye coord
They’ll be using their fingers to grasp and manipulate different sizes, shapes, and textures of foods. Their grasp patterns and use of their fingers will begin to improve as they use them more.
They’ll learn how to accurately bring foods to their
Offering small pieces of food will help them to develop their pincer grasp (holding an item between thumb and index finger). Large pieces will give them the oral motor control to take bites and gauge how much they should take in their mouth at a time.
You can start your baby with utensils by putting the food on the spoon or fork yourself. Place the utensil on the tray for them to grab and bring to their mouth. Try to use more sturdy foods that won’t easily slip off.
Let them hold the utensils and just be close by if they need your hand as a guide to get it to their mouth or scooping and item. Holding the utensils will allow them to develop hand-eye coordination for accurately scooping, piercing, or bringing their food to the right spot on their face.
8. Makes them less picky
Again, letting them be in control of their own food intake may make them a better eater in general. Allowing them to choose what they want to eat from their
Put 2-3 food items on their plate at once so they can have the final choice of what they want to eat.
Related Post: How to Get Your Baby to Try New Foods and Textures
9. Easier for parents
I can definitely attest to the fact that having a 2nd child made my life a bit more hectic. Having 2 under 2, I always have my hands full between changing diapers, preparing meals, getting them dressed, entertaining, and cleaning up their messes.
Note: You should always be sitting with or near your infant if they are self-feeding. Never leave your baby unattended during mealtimes.
Related Post: How to Make Mealtimes Less Messy
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As you can see, there are so many benefits to letting your child feed themselves. You don’t have to do it all the time, but when you’re not in a rush and have the time to clean up, give it a try!
Make sure your baby doesn’t miss this learning this essential skill for gaining independence and developing improved motor skills.