Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Teach Your Baby to Self Feed

Self feeding vs. Spoon feeding

Self feeding is just that--your baby feeding himself. Spoon feeding, is just that--your baby feeding himself with a spoon.

Self-feeding is a different method of introducing solids as opposed to you feeding your baby purees and the like instead. This is called Baby-Led Weaning. Here's a great video on how it works.

Why encourage self feeding/ Baby-Led Weaning early?

One of the reasons why I love this method is that our kids LEARN while they eat--they get to engage all of their senses: see bright carrots, touch bumpy broccoli, smell sweet pineapple, taste subtle cucumbers... All of this earlier that the American style of us spoon feeding our babies ourselves. This activity translates to your baby learning not only about foods, but how to eat them. It's also a great way for your baby to have a little more control in his life. Check out some of the great videos on youtube for more information. Just search for "baby led weaning."

When is he ready for self feeding/Baby-Led Weaning?

Self feeding can start as early as 6 mouths old, no sooner than that, though. Once your baby can put objects into his mouth, has begun some chewing motions and perhaps holds the breast or bottle in his hands while feeding, you can start encouraging self feeding.

Parents of typical children in Europe (this isn't common in the US or Canada) usually start when their baby sits with stability in his high chair, but this may not be for a while for our children who may have lower muscle tone. A bumbo seat or car seat set at a slight incline may help just while feeding. (You don't want to prematurely sit your baby up until s/he is able to put himself into the sitting position.) sells a very nice chair that can provide your child stability during meal times.

When is he ready for spoon feed himself?

The milestone of spoon feeding is usually started between 9-12 months in the typical population.
Though the process may be much slower and is definitely messier than when you feed him, the advantages of letting him try are many, including creating new pathways in the brain stimulated by all his senses!

Things you'll need to encourage spoon-feeding:

Child's nontoxic spoon
Child's nontoxic plate or bowl (maybe one with a suction cup)
Nontoxic mat, shower curtain or towel for under the chair
High chair (or other child sized seat)
Bib (one with snaps is better than velcro so he won't rip it off mid meal!)
A wet washcloth


1. Buy baby friendly feeding utensils that are free of toxins. See Nontoxic Feeding Sets.

2. Prepare the area where you are teaching your baby to feed herself. Place the highchair on a plastic mat (they now have nontoxic shower curtains that work great) or towel and choose a bib. Self feeding is messy at first, so it's a good idea to make cleanup easier.

3. Prepare your child by either taking all clothes off expect for a diaper or by putting on clothes that you don't mind being stained. (Jett has special yellow clothes for when he's eating the curcumin.)

4. Place your child in the high chair and put his bib on securely. Prepare the food and place it on a dedicated plate to teach your child to identify feeding time.

5. Begin the feeding by offering your child a spoonful of food and then offering the spoon to your child. If your baby takes the spoon from you as you try to feed, give her the spoon and use another one. Until she learns to completely feed herself, you need to feed the baby yourself if she becomes frustrated with using the spoon. It helps to wash her hands when they become too slippery with food to hold on properly. At first you can hold the bowl and allow her to try to scoop. Or you can load up the spoon for her and let her at it. (More spoon tips below.)

6. Clean the feeding area and repeat the sessions whenever your baby is hungry. Eventually your baby will become more proficient and there is less mess at the end of the meal.

Set aside plenty of time for self feeding. I set Jett up in a legless high chair on the floor of the kitchen and cook or do dishes while he eats and watches me. That way, I can give him plenty of time to experiment without me feeling like I have a million other things that I need to be doing instead of watching him try to eat.

The Transitional Period

When your baby can put objects into her mouth, she explores her world through her mouth, which makes this time perfect to begin some finger foods. She can also sit with little support. She may have some teeth and may begin to make chewing motions with her mouth. She can hold a small bottle by herself and may begin to take liquids from a cup with help.

While she cannot be expected to feed herself all her foods at this stage, she can participate by feeding herself some foods. She can also have finger foods for snacks.

Finger foodsFoods appropriate for your child during this transitional period include those that dissolve easily in the mouth, such as the following:

Small pieces of toast (may want to avoid in case of gluten sensitivity. Jett's had some Ezekiel Bread but only because he kept stealing it from me and loved to chew on it.)

Small pieces of cooked vegetables, such as peas, squash, soft carrots, or broccoli

Small pieces of very soft meat, such as fish without bones, chicken without skin or bones

Small pieces of ripe peaches, bananas, pears, or other soft fruit

Small pieces of soft cheese, such as Monterey Jack or Colby (unless there is evidence of a milk intolerance or allergy)

Cheerios or puffed brown rice (make sure it's organic and additive free.)

Avoid foods that may cause choking.

Do not offer the following during early stages of self feeding:

Any dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins, dates, pineapple, or coconut

Any nuts, such as walnuts or peanuts

Popcorn, potato chips, corn chips, or crackers that do not dissolve well

Hard candy of any kind

Uncooked vegetables, such as carrots or celery

Hot dogs and other foods that might be of windpipe size

Drinking from a cup

Drinking from a sippy cup is not recommended for children with DS because it's a lazy approach to getting liquids that doesn't help them therapeutically. They don't have to work for it at all, it just pours out.

Drinking from a straw cup is better for children with DS because it helps them build up the muscles in their mouth better. A honey bear from is an ideal starter straw cup. Jett started drinking from a straw at 6 months old.

Otherwise, bath time is an excellent time to allow your baby to experiment with drinking from a cup w/out a lid. She will enjoy the challenge and you will not need to contend with a mess on the floor or her clothes. Use something like a non toxic plastic shot glass; the smaller diameter of the opening makes it easier for her to manage with her small mouth. You can offer breast milk, formula or juice from the cup.

If you bottle-feed, your baby may enjoy helping you hold her bottle. Let her participate by pulling the nipple in and out of her mouth and adjusting the angle of the bottle. Avoid putting her to bed with her bottle, though; as she falls asleep, less saliva bathes her teeth, and she swallows less often. Some milk may pool in her mouth and support the growth of bacteria, which leads to tooth decay. She could even choke.

Modified Adult Period

When your baby can sit without support and reach for a cup and spoon, she's ready for the next step. She may be able to lift a cup by herself. When she is full, she lets you know by turning away from her food or playing with it (or, in Jett's case: spitting it out).

Since she cannot feed herself well yet from a spoon, you can help her by teaching her how to grasp it in her hand and move her hand toward her dish. A good way to begin is to let her hold a spoon while you feed her with another spoon. Every several bites, help her load her spoon and bring it to her mouth. Use foods that stick well to the spoon, such as cereal, mashed potatoes, or thick mashed banana. Lots of praise and acceptance of spills encourage her to learn.

Use a small cup at mealtimes with a small amount of breast milk or water (to save you work if the contents spill). Or use a cup with a no-spill lid, like a straw cup (again, a sippy cup is not recommended for children with T21). She will probably need help at first just learning to hold on to the cup without spilling and, of course, she needs your approval.

Once she can chew easily and can bite off a chunk of food from a larger piece. Her pincer grasp (ability to pick up objects with thumb and forefinger) is well developed. Foods appropriate at this stage include strips of green or red pepper, peeled cucumber cut into small pieces, cooked green beans and broccoli spears, wedges of fresh pears or peaches, or slices of banana. She will do well with peas and blueberries, too. She still needs lots of chances to use a spoon and cup.

At this stage, she may also enjoy the new skill of deliberately spitting. At 14 months, Jett loves to spit food, especially beets or anything with the permanently staining curcumin in it! Make it easy on yourself by giving your baby no more food than she can quickly and easily eat or drink.

She can always have more put on her plate or in her cup if she finishes. Putting small amounts of food and beverage within reach of your baby helps reduce some of the messiness of this stage. Tipping over bowls and cups and watching your reaction are great fun, and spitting is sure to grab your attention. Remember: Sometimes ignoring a behavior you do not like ends the behavior more quickly than expressing surprise or displeasure.

The Toddler Period

Your toddler can manage cup and spoon with ease. She can chew well and take foods she has difficulty chewing out of her mouth with her fingers. She may be a messy eater who may express some strong food preferences. She also has a diminished appetite at this stage, corresponding with her slower rate of growth.

Mealtimes call for creativity and patience on your part. Your toddler needs foods she can easily eat by herself. Since her appetite is not large, take advantage of snack times as well as mealtimes to provide her with nutritious foods.

Try offering vegetable strips as snacks. To make zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower more interesting, try a yogurt dip with dill seasoning. Fortify smoothies with yogurt and veggies. You might also try adding a small amount of grated carrot, apple, or zucchini to pancakes.

Always offer nutritious foods. Then you can relax and avoid the food battles that result from forcing foods on a resistant toddler.

When it comes to self feeding, the mind and the capabilities of the baby don't always progress in sync. Often a baby is determined to feed herself, but doesn't yet have the ability to grasp food or spoon, and she ends the meal messy and frustrated. Other times, babies are content with the ease of being fed, and despite being able to feed themselves, continue to push mom to do the job. In the former case, you need to provide the opportunities to make her efforts successful, and in the later case, you have to do a little persistent pushing.

Let's talk about the first case. If you have a baby that insists on feeding herself, even though she can't get the job done, there are a few things you can do. In order for a baby to successfully self-feed, they need to have a pretty well developed pincer grasp. This allows them to pick up food and dexterously get it to their mouth. Prior to the pincer grasp is the palmer grasp. At this stage, babies can only pick up things in the palm of their hands.

What it amounts to is taking fistfuls of food and aiming it somewhere near their mouth, and mashing it in -- often scraping the palm with their lips to get it all. What a mess! This sort of grasp precludes efficient self-spoon feeding.

At this early stage you can help out by doing a number of things. First, for finger foods, offer those things that she can hold in his palm, like long crackers, or strips of toast, where there is still food sticking out the end for her to bite off. Second, give your baby one spoon while you feed with the other. For her spoon, use sticky food and load the spoon for her to self feed. Food like thick baby cereal, or mashed fruits and vegetables that have been mixed into mashed potatoes. Any thick, gooey mess that can adhere to the spoon or be picked up, but still is easily "gummed" in her mouth without causing her to gag, is a good food at this time.

During this time, while she is learning to feed herself, and waiting for her pincer grasp to emerge, a lot of her nutrition will come from breast milk or formula and the baby foods that you are feeding her. It is wise to start backing off on the less chunky forms of baby food, since they do not encourage her to use her more mature ability to chew and swallow like an adult. And for that ability to develop, she needs to practice it.

Once you notice that she is more adept at pincer grasp, you can let him pick up more and more of his own feeding. (All fluids at meal time should be offered in a straw cup, not in a bottle). A self motivated baby will make the switch to self feeding by himself, often before he is capable of getting enough food that way.

For the baby who is quite satisfied with being fed baby food, and drinking from a bottle, you will need to be a little pushy. Begin slowly so as to not shock or confuse your baby. Begin at breakfast when baby is well rested and up for a new challenge. Eliminate the bottle from this meal first and encourage her to feed himself her own gluten free cereal, and offering some slice of fruit. Load her spoon and help her get it to his mouth. Don't be too ready to offer your spoonful. Let her be for a few minutes so she can experiment with the food and feeding. Back off on your participation.

Gradually eliminate the finally pureed baby foods as they may hinder her moving on to more appropriately textured foods. (Of course there are always those foods that will remain forever in her diet that are pureed or mashed, like applesauce or winter squash. You don't need to eliminate all soft foods, but you do need to encourage the addition of chunkier, and thicker ones.) A baby who fits into this category will be a little longer in making the move to complete self-feeding.

For most babies, expertise in using a spoon will take years to develop. Provide baby with those great utensils available at baby stores, the kind that she can hold easily and that have the curve that helps get the food to the target. It will make her hard efforts more rewarding.

As with almost every phase of child development, each child has their own, unique schedule. What is important is to be cued into your child, being aware of when he is ready to move on, when she needs some encouragement, and when you need to back off. Your 'listening' skills are important for this. Notice how she chews and swallows, how she holds his finger foods, etc. From those cues, you can determine when she needs your help, and when she needs to do it herself, when she is ready for chunkier foods, or if a thinner texture is needed a while longer. Don't hold hard and fast to any specific age that he needs to be accomplished at something. So long as your see progress in the right direction, then relax and know that you are doing the best you can.

Give the child less food than you think he can eat to help him feel a sense of accomplishment.

Never force feed your child.


Related PostsBaby Food & Formula Contain Arsenic, Toxic Metals
Healthy Alternative to Conventional Infant Formula...
First Foods: How & What & When to Introduce
First Foods: GAPS Introducing Solids
First Foods: Yogurt & Bone Broth
First Foods: Root/Leaf Vegetables
How to Spoon Feed
How to Bottle Feed & Nontoxic Bottles
Nontoxic Feeding Sets

1 comment:

steve said...

Nice article thanks for sharing