Most babies begin weaning at around six months, and by seven months they may begin to show an interest in feeding themselves.
Early self-feeding attempts usually result in very little being eaten, but your baby will love rubbing food between her fingers and probably in her hair. At this stage, it’s best to have a spoon of your own and feed her at the same time, to make sure at least something goes in. Give her plenty of time, try to stay calm and do a big clean-up at the end of the meal.
Your baby won’t have mastered the ‘pincer grasp’ yet – holding a spoon or a piece of food between her fingers and thumb – so she’ll grab a fist full of food and put it somewhere near her mouth. It’s a messy business, but an important stage to go through as she learns to feed herself.
Although many babies will still have only a few teeth – if any – at this age, they can gum their food into a softer consistency. So at around seven to eight months you can introduce chunky baby finger foods – banana or avocado are ideal – that are easy for your child to handle.
Rather than relying on her to eat an entire finger food meal, you might want to introduce finger foods as snacks to start with.
Finger foods to encourage self-feeding
Steamed vegetables: carrot sticks, sweet potato, broccoli etc (raw vegetables are too difficult for them to digest)
Soft, ripe fruit: banana chunks, mango, peach
Cooked fruit: apple and pear pieces
Bread-based products: toast soldiers or unsalted breadsticks
Remember to avoid sugary snacks like biscuits and cakes, and never leave your baby unattended while she’s eating – until her chewing skills are better developed, she’s at risk of choking.
Self-feeding with cutlery
Okay, so it’ll be a while before your baby is competently using cutlery, but giving her a spoon of her own at mealtimes can help introduce her to the skills she’ll need, such as hand-eye coordination. There are many different types of spoon on the market, often aimed at specific age groups.
Look out for angled spoons with chunky rubber grips that make it easier for your baby to grasp and aim at her mouth. Don’t worry if all she does is bang it on her tray; it’s all good practice and helps make mealtimes fun. If you want to help her get food into her mouth, try loading the spoon for her.
Introducing a lidded cup will add to your baby’s growing sense of independence, and it’s much better for her teeth than drinking from a bottle teat. At first, you’ll need to hold the cup for her and help her get it into her mouth, but let her experiment with it and she’ll soon get the idea.
Choosing a cup is a matter of trial and error. Some require a good deal of sucking but are less likely to spill; others have free-pouring spouts. If you’re feeling brave, you can even introduce an open cup at this stage. Offer a drink of water at the end of the meal, as babies can easily fill up on fluid before you manage to get a single spoonful of food in.