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Teaching little ones to eat independently can be a messy yet fun-filled stage – for both the parents and the baby. Every meal is an opportunity for parents to help their babies explore and develop a healthy relationship with food.
As a baby learns to eat, he goes through several developmental stages. One of the biggest milestones in the development of a baby is when he transits from the stage of depending on his parents for feeding to being able to feed himself. There are many signs that the baby exhibits such as grasping objects with his palm, bringing hand to mouth, playing with a spoon, etc. These are the cues that he is ready to self-feed. This is a very crucial time for the little ones and they need their parents to guide them with the right eating habits.
Learning to Eat
Messing up or spilling the food here and there is a part of the learning process for the baby as he tries to eat independently. He needs to develop the following motor skills and be physically ready to be able to feed himself:
- Learning the sensations of feeling, squeezing and dropping the food.
- Coordinating with his body to be able to grab the food.
- Being able to put the food into his mouth and eat it.
Different Stages of Feeding
Newborns depend on their parents for their nutritional needs. Feeding by breast or bottle develops an emotional bond between the mother and child, and the baby feels cared for and protected. By around six months, the baby is introduced to solids. Their first foods are usually cereal or cooked and pureed vegetables and fruits. At this stage, the child needs to practice how to chew and swallow the food. These early feeding experiences are a stepping stone in developing independent eating habits in babies. By seven months, the baby has a pincer grasp and should be given finger food. This encourages him to develop self-feeding habits. After nine months, he might try to reach out for the spoon or the food that his parents are eating. This is when the baby indicates that he wants to take charge of his own eating. In the beginning, it might be a little messy and frustrating, but with practice, the baby gets better.
Tips to Develop Independent Eating Habits in your Baby
- Use two spoons – one that the baby would hold and one for you. Let the baby himself try and take the food on the spoon and put it in his mouth.
- Chop the food into very small pieces which will make it easier for the baby to grab them and feed himself. For example- bread toast fingers or cheese cubes can be given as finger foods.
- Allow the baby to play with the food while he is eating, as this is how they get acquainted with different kinds of food more easily. Of course, you can gradually teach them manners once they get older and start enjoying feeding themselves.
- Get the right utensils – Try getting bowls with anti slip bottoms so that it’ll stay on his tray, give him small sized spoon and fork. Make sure the fork is blunt and rounded at the tips.
- Give your baby light snacks to eat 5-6 times a day so that he gets more practice of feeding himself.
- Make sure that your baby eats with the whole family at least once in a day. Seeing the other family members having their food can make the baby want to eat by himself.
Its always a great pleasure watching the baby reach for food and feeding by himself, even though in a clumsy manner. Every feeding time is a chance to acquaint your baby with healthy eating habits. It can be a great start if he is made to develop healthy and independent eating habits very early.