The feeding habits of babies are of concern to parents everywhere. Issues range from deciding whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed through to weaning and how to deal with fussy eating. One of the main questions that parents want the answer to is when will their baby be able to feed themselves and there are many schools of thought on this issue, some of which are discussed below.
The Traditional Method of Weaning
The traditional way that babies are weaned off milk and onto solid food (at around six months) is to spoon-feed them pureed versions of everyday foods. This begins with fruit and vegetables, followed by pureed versions of food that the rest of the family is eating. If you choose this method, you will gradually need to puree the food less and less so that it is textured and more lumps remain. This will encourage your child to start chewing.
You will find after some time of feeding your child in this way that they will be keen to take the spoon and have a go at feeding themselves. This may require you to put down a mat under your high chair to catch spillages. You may also want to make sure that you also have a spoon and a bowl of food at mealtimes so you can ensure that some of your child's food is actually making it into their mouth.
Baby Led Weaning
The idea of baby led weaning is gaining in popularity and is a significant move away from parents feeding babies pureed food. If you are following this method, the idea is that you give your baby age appropriate solid food to eat, from which they feed themselves so they can eat as much or as little as they like. This method can still be started when your child is about six months old, so around the same time as traditional weaning.
There are, however, some concerns about this method. One concern is that the child is not getting enough to eat. This has been dismissed by various scientific studies that claim that even babies as young as six months are able to tell when they are full and have had enough to eat. The other main concern is the risk of choking. There is no doubt that bypassing pureed food and moving straight to solids presents a risk of choking. However, there is little evidence to show that this risk is any greater than the risk of an adult choking or a baby who is being spoon-fed.
How Parents Can Encourage Self-Feeding
As with all child development, each child is different and will do things at different rates. This is true for eating and there will be children who will be keen independent eaters from the start as well as those who are still happy to have a bottle and be fed by someone else.
If your child is eager to do things for themselves, there are things you can do to encourage them. This includes giving finger foods that they are able to pick up easily as well as giving them a spoon and small bowl of food so that they can have a go themselves. In the early stages of weaning, children are still getting a lot of nutrition from milk as well as the food they are eating, so there should be no need to worry that they are not having enough. You will probably find that by the time your child is 10 to 14 months old, they will be happily feeding themselves.
If your child is less keen on doing things for themselves they might need more encouragement. Try to encourage finger foods as well as replacing the bottle at mealtimes with water in a suitable cup. You may also want to try them on more solid food and scale back your participation at mealtimes so they are forced to do it for themselves.
Making Mealtimes Fun
One of the key things to having a baby who will feed themselves and is content at mealtimes is to make mealtimes a fun part of the day. Make sure your child is sitting right up to the table in their high chair so that they feel included in the family meal and give them some food of their own which they can feed to themselves. Offer them lots of praise and encouragement and do not be disheartened if they do not want to eat as much as you think they should be. There could be many reasons for this, but if you are at all concerned you should get some advice from your GP or health visitor.
Whatever approach you take to weaning, both the traditional method and the baby led method will eventually lead to your child being able to feed themselves and enjoy mealtimes. When this happens very much depends on the child but as long as you have chosen the approach that suits you both, this is what matters.