Eating Finger Foods & Self-Feeding: Expectations and tips

Starting solids and self-feeding are major baby milestones, but as a new parent, you may be unsure how and when solids and self-feeding should begin. Your little one is developing, changing, and growing on a daily basis, and before you know it, they’ll be ready to grab that spoon and try eating all by themselves!

Each baby is different, so to help you better understand when your child is ready for this momentous milestone, we’ve outlined signs your baby is ready to self-feed and which foods to offer first. We also cover tips to help them develop the fine motor skills needed to handle finger foods and utensils.

When Will My Baby Be Ready to Self-Feed?

Self-feeding can begin as soon as your baby begins solids, roughly around six months. Many parents choose cereals and purees as their baby’s first solid; however you can introduce soft, gummable foods at the same time if you wish.

The most important guideline to follow when introducing solids is only introduce one new food every three to four days. Each time your baby tries a new food, watch for signs of an allergic reaction. If you notice no reaction after a few days you can introduce another new food.

Signs of an Allergic Reaction

  • Swelling or itching of the mouth, eyes, or skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, acid reflux, or diarrhea
  • Hoarseness, coughing, or swelling of the throat
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Stuffy, itchy, runny nose, or sneezing
  • Itching, hives, swelling of the skin, or eczema

If your baby exhibits signs of severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the lips or tongue, bluish hue to the skin or lips, call 9-1-1 and seek immediate medical attention, 

If your baby displays signs of a mild or possible allergic reaction, speak with your pediatrician about how to proceed with the suspected allergen. They may recommend avoiding the food altogether or only for a few months. 

Sings Your Baby is Ready to Self-Feed

Even if your baby is not showing an interest in self-feeding, it is still common to introduce solids around six months if you have not already started. However, most pediatricians recommend that infants do not start solids before six months as breast milk and infant formula provide all the nutrition a child needs until that time. 

Some babies may not show any interest in self-feeding until nine to twelve months. However, age alone is not the only indicator your baby is ready for self-feeding. 

Self-Feeding Readiness Signs

  • Your baby can sit up by themselves and hold their head up
  • Your baby starts grabbing for the spoon while you feed them
  • Reaching for the food in their bowl or the food you are eating
  • Using the pincer grasp to pick up items 
  • Bring items to their mouth 
  • Pushing your hand away if you try to feed them

Which Foods to Try First

Even if your baby shows all the signs of readiness, that does not mean you can give them just anything. Some foods are not safe for your baby until they have teeth and can chew their food or until they are over three years old, as many foods present a choking hazard to younger children. 

To test whether or not a food is soft enough, press it between your fingers. If the pressure of your fingers easily mashes the food, it is safe to give your little one.

Soft, bite-size pieces that your baby can gum or dissolve should be offered first.

First Finger Food Suggestions

  • Soft cooked and diced carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, and squash
  • Soft cooked whole grain pasta
  • Diced cheese
  • Cooked and diced chicken, turkey, fish
  • Soft cooked apples and pears
  • Soft cookies
  • Puffed rice cereals or Cheerios
  • Chunks of banana

Foods to Avoid

  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit and raisins
  • Popcorn
  • Raw fruits or veggies
  • Hot dogs
  • Any food bigger than a pea or Cheerio

Once your baby’s two-year molars come in, you can begin giving them a wider range of food as they will be able to chew harder foods. 

Keeping Your Baby Safe

Your baby may gag when trying new and unfamiliar textures. Gagging is a natural reflex that prevents choking, and while it may seem alarming, it is perfectly normal. If your baby frequently gags while eating, avoid the trigger foods for a while or prepare them a different way.

Choking, on the other hand, is much more severe and could be life-threatening. Choking happens when a piece of food becomes lodged in the airway. If your baby is choking, they may begin by coughing but then will not be able to make a sound. Instead, their lips may become blue, and they may reach for their throat or their mouth. 

It is wise for parents to take an infant and child CPR/First Aid class to learn how to perform CPR and aid a choking infant or child.

Ways to Encourage Self-Feeding

Be prepared for a mess when your baby starts self-feeding. When they first begin self-feeding, they may not get much in their mouths, but they will become more skilled with each practice. Giving opportunities to practice is the best way to teach them how to self-feed.

Allow them to use their own spoon for purees while you feed them with a separate spoon; that way, you can ensure they are getting some food into their stomach.

Your baby can also practice by using yogurt pouches or by placing a few small bites at a time onto their tray, which they can pick up and bring to their mouth. 

Remain patient as your baby learns, and be sure to offer enough sustenance through nursings, formula, and other solids. Don’t rush your child as they learn, and make mealtimes a casual and relaxed experience. Placing extra stress on your child or rushing them may slow down the process. 

Self-feeding is an exciting milestone and one that may take months to achieve. But, with a bit of practice and encouragement, your baby will be devouring mouthfuls! Always make the food soft and bite-sized to prevent choking. Delight in their achievements, offer encouragement and praise, and keep the process fun and relaxing, and your baby’s independence will blossom!

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