You've been waiting to hit the solid foods milestone so you can finally feed your sweet babe teeny spoonfuls of something delicious, but the recommendations vary on when and how to start feeding your baby real food, and they pretty much vary on when you should stop, too. Because kids are so different, and their needs are all different, there's no real solid guidelines on how mealtimes should go with your toddlers. But, there are general routines you can follow to help your kid learn to eat in a healthy way. Here's when you should stop spoon-feeding your kid, so you can plan accordingly.
"Once a baby can hold his head properly and sit up comfortably, at around 8 to 12 months, a baby should start using his/her thumb or index fingers to feed themselves," Dr. Katia Friedman tells Romper. By that time, your child should have developed hand-eye coordination and related skills (like the pincer grasp) to be able to feed themselves appropriately. Obviously, development varies from child to child, but stopping spoon-feeding and allowing a baby to try on their own will help to advance their skills. As they say, practice makes you better. If your baby is reaching for your veggies or his eyes are focused on your food, that’s a good sign that the baby is ready to start feeding themselves, notes Friedman.
But don't feel like spoon-feeding is pointless. Spoon-feeding is important during a baby’s development when they aren’t physically developed enough to eat solid food, adds pediatric dentist Dr. Hyewon Lee, DMD, MPH. "But," she tells Romper, "parents should avoid saliva-sharing behaviors such as sharing spoons and other utensils because bacteria that causes cavities is passed from parent to baby when this happens." (Though studies have shown that saliva-sharing with infants can possibly reduce the likelihood of allergies later in life, the counterargument is that the likelihood of tooth decay also increases.) Though every baby is different, Lee mentions, by 10 to 12 months babies should be eating mostly table food and can handle their own spoons.
Self-feeding skills, like other natural developmental skills, need to be practiced. When your baby first starts feeding themselves, complete inaccuracy (and total mess) is to be expected. As they get more and more experienced using their hands and fingers, manipulating utensils, and drinking from a cup, they'll become more confident and more efficient. Encouraging your little ones and allowing them lots of chances to explore food and self-feeding is not only a really fun process, but also excellent for their development.
Having your baby sit with your family during mealtimes gives them a great guide for how adults eat, too. From watching you, they learn the process of a meal, how utensils are used, and how to bring food to your mouth to chew. Many families love sharing some of the family meal with their babies to give them a chance to explore flavors and textures, and discover new sensations involved in eating.
As the website for Dr. Sears noted, once your baby starts a major independence streak (around 12 months), they'll want to do everything on their own. While this may not be entirely effective, it is a good way for them to learn and practice the skills needed to feed themselves. A good way to start is to prepare a a bite ready for them in a spoon, and help guide that spoon to their mouths while they hold it. Practicing poking larger pieces of fruit or vegetables with a blunt fork is also a great learning activity. Taking advantage of their focus and determination at this age is a good idea, as you'll be working with their will instead of against it.
Babies are often ready to do this way before we let them. But, watching your baby learn to eat and enjoy the foods you do is one of the best moments of parenthood, particularly if mealtimes are celebrated in your family.
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