Benefits of Letting Your Baby Feed Themselves

January 25, 2021

Benefits of Letting Your Baby Feed Themselves


Many parents wonder whether they should start complementary foods with spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning. A combined approach is beneficial for your baby for a couple of reasons. When complementary feeding begins, usually around 6-months-old, there is a risk of iron deficiency and choking from chunkier foods. Most parents start with iron-fortified baby cereal or pureed meats since the oral cavity is not ready to manipulate a chunky texture
at this age. Initially, spoon-feeding makes sense because it ensures your little one is getting enough daily iron.[i] [ii] But as your infant gets older and the oral cavity develops, they will soon be ready to try different textures. Baby-led weaning is optimal when they are developmentally ready (usually around 8-9 months old). Read our previous blog on Texture in Your Baby’s Diet to learn more about changes in the oral cavity and the importance of texture, for fine motor and oral development. 

Benefits of Self-Feeding
Once you determine your infant is ready to accept changes in texture, supporting them with self-feeding is beneficial for several reasons: 

  • Self-feeding allows infant to develop independence and mutual trust
  • Self-feeding aids in fine motor skills and sense for feeling, squeezing, and dropping items
  • Self-feeding teaches food awareness and develops taste, smell, and temperature appreciation
  • Self-feeding increases participation in family meals
  • Self-feeding lessens anxiety as there is no mealtime pressure which can derive from spoon-feeding
  • Self-feeding can lead to a higher intake of energy/nutrients
  • Self-feeding may help lower obesity rates later on, since your child will be able to stop when they feel full 
    [iii] [iv] [v] [vi]
Mom mimics drinking from an open cup for her infant son learning to self-feed

Caption: A mother mimics drinking from an open cup for her infant son learning to self-feed

How to Know When Your Baby is Ready for Self-Feeding
Some of the signs to look for if your infant is ready to start self-feeding include: opening their mouth to signal readiness for food, bringing the hand to mouth, reaching for foods, reaching out for a spoon, or taking food from your plate. [vii][viii] Close supervision during feeding is required and your responsibility will be to offer a variety of nutritious foods cut into bite sizes with an appropriate texture (ie. nothing too hard or sticky that could potentially become a choking hazard).  

Here are six self-feeding recommendations to start:

  1. Begin with soft, bite-sized pieces of food your infant will be able to mash in their mouth.
  2. Ensure a variety of nutritious foods are offered.
  3. Don’t mind the mess—remember they are developing many important skills with self-feeding and not all the food will make it into their mouths. Let your baby use a spoon if they reach for it, as this will take some time to master (usually around 18 months).
  4. Don’t stress about the intake—your baby will eat more at some meals than others, and let you know when they are full, or if they don’t like a certain food. 
  5. If your baby is no longer breastfeeding, you can mimic drinking from a cup, as babies learn by watching others. Provide a safe, open, non-breakable cup. 
  6. Minimize distractions and keep mealtimes fun with family interaction. 
    [ix] [x]

 Caption: A young girl with yogurt on her face learning to eat with a spoon

Tidbit for Your Tiny One
Researchers who looked at the correlation of motor skills in infancy and later cognitive achievement, noted that enhanced development of fine motor skills at 12 months resulted in better communication skills by 24 months of age. [xi] This is another benefit of providing finger foods to your child and to encourage self-feeding!

Some key takeaways: 

  • Use a combined approach to feeding, and progress to self-feeding when your infant is ready
  • Self-feeding leads to a greater sense of independence and develops trust
  • Food awareness is enriched through self-feeding 
  • Helps your baby learn self-regulation for food intake (linked to lower obesity rates later on)
  • Fine motor development is positively associated with later development of communication skills


In the second book of our series
Recipes for Growing Me ~9-months, we celebrate the fun that babies begin to experience with food: 

Recipes for Growing Me J is for Joy alphabet illustration
J is for…Joy

At this developmental stage
My food is like a toy
It provides me with great fun
And brings me so much joy
There really is no need
To question or to guess
I get it in my hands
And create a great big mess
But letting me use my hands
Or small utensils is key
As I learn from experience
This brings joy to me


We hope we’ve contributed something beneficial to your baby’s diet, and remember…don’t hog the blog! Share it with new moms today! Want to learn more from our baby’s first cookbook? Order now and enjoy 15% OFF Baby’s First Cookbook—with code BLOGHOG.

Have a bloomin’ day!
Sarah & Karen


References
[i] D’Auria, E., Berganmin, M., Staiano, A., Banderali, G., Pendezza, E., Penagini, F., Zuccotti, G. V., and Peroni, D. G., (2018). Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 44 (1). 

[ii] [iii] Solid, K., (2020). What is baby-led weaning? Food Insight, 10651497, Summer 2020. 

[iv] [vii] [ix] Raising Children Network (Australia), (2021). Children learning to feed themselves. https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/nutrition-fitness/family-meals/learning-to-feed-themselves

[v] [x] Carruth, B.R., Zieler, P., Gordon, A.R, and Hendricks, K., (2004). Developmental milestones and self-feeding behaviours in infants and toddlers. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 101: 51-6. 

[vi] Cichero, J.A.Y, (2016). Introducing solid foods using baby-led weaning vs. spoon-feeding: A focus on oral development, nutrition intake and quality of research to bring balance to the debate. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, 41, 72-77.

[viii] Cichero, J.A.Y, (2016). Introducing solid foods using baby-led weaning vs. spoon-feeding: A focus on oral development, nutrition intake and quality of research to bring balance to the debate. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, 41, 72-77.

[xi] Valla, L., Slinning, K., Kalleson, R., Wentzel-Larsen, T., and Riiser, K., (2020). Motor skills and later communication in early childhood: Results from a population-based study. Child: Care, Health and Development, 46 (4), 407-413 




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