How to encourage your baby to eat with a spoon

Improving motor skills, better hand-eye coordination - what's not to like about letting your baby use a spoon? OK, it can be messy but it's fun and learning rolled into one...

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Spoons are not just for feeding when it comes to babies – they’re for learning too.

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The first step is for your baby to learn how to let food move towards the back of their throat and then swallow it. Babies are born with a sucking rather than swallowing reflux, and a tongue thrust reflex – which means for the first 6 months or so, your baby is likely to try to push things out their mouth rather than chew or swallow them.

That first step, gently giving a little bit of solid food on a spoon and letting them experiment with this new trick of swallowing, is a big step forward.

When can you give your baby a spoon to eat with?

It’s never too early to let your baby practise eating with a spoon – even if your baby is as young as 6 months old and has just started weaning.

OK, so your baby getting food INTO their mouth might not be that effective in the early days – you might end up with more on the floor or the high chair. But holding a spoon, dipping it into food and trying to aim it at a wide open tunnel (aka a mouth) is a great way for your baby to develop motor skills as well as learn to swallow.

“The sooner you let your baby’s tiny hands have a go at using a spoon the better,” says dietician and child nutritionist Sarah Almond Bushell. And the start of weaning provides the perfect opportunity to do it.

But don’t expect cutlery expertise. A spoon can definitely be pretty challenging for a baby and many children often don’t get really capable with cutlery until  around 7 years of age – not least because lots of food these days doesn’t require a knife, fork or spoon, such as  fruit, picnic food, packed lunch, sandwiches etc.

“It takes your baby time to get to know what to do with the spoon,” Hayley_plus3 reminds us.

“It took a few weeks before my baby started taking food properly off the spoon. Now, as soon as the spoon is near her mouth she can’t open it wide enough. She will soon get the hang of it.”

Mum xlolsx shared a useful tip with us. “I started by giving Ruby a sterile spoon a couple of weeks ago just to play with and get used to it in her mouth. She’s now doing really well with the spoon.” 

How to get your baby used to using a spoon

Nutritionist Sarah suggests a great way of getting your little one used to cutlery at meal times. “Include baby cutlery in playtime too – cutting up Playdoh, or using a spoon to dish dried peas or rice from one bowl to another. Also make sure they’ve seen you using a spoon, or use one and eat with it while they’re feeding. Your baby will love to copy you!”

What type of spoon is best to use?

There are lots of weaning spoons out there but it’s best to start with one that’s shallow, to make it easier for you baby to eat from. Choose hard plastic ones if you can, too, as soft plastic ones can crack and harbour bacteria.

If you want, you might like to go for one that changes colour with heat – just to make sure your baby won’t burn their mouths on over-hot food.

But DO skip the hard metal ones, Sarah advises. “This is because metal spoons can be cold and uncomfortable and can hurt your baby’s delicate mouth.”

Top tip: While you don’t need to sterilise weaning utensils, you should make sure they’re thoroughly clean. The best way to do this is to pop them in the top rack of the dishwasher where it’s nice and steamy or in water so hot you need to wear rubber gloves to clean them. 

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Why it’s worth getting your baby to eat with a spoon

Baby-led weaning – where you cut up your own food and family meals into small pieces and let your baby help themselves – has become increasingly popular over the years. The only thing is, it can mean young babies don’t get to use spoons as much as they once did.

One bonus of giving your baby purees is that it’s easier for your baby to use a spoon to dip into the mushed up food.

Sarah actually reckons that, from a nutritional point of view, a mix of baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding gives you a bit of reassurance that your baby’s getting all the nutrients they need. 

What can you do if your baby won’t use a spoon?

“Gabe is refusing everything off a spoon apart from yogurt!” our forum user gsmummy55 told us despairingly.

“Today he had Shreddies for breakfast, pasta for lunch and sausage casserole for tea… all of that eaten with his fingers! 

“Do you think it is because he is having a lot of new tastes lately and wants to discover them for himself rather than be spoon fed?”

It’s highly likely you might find that at some point or other your little one simply refuses to eat from the spoon at all, which can be hugely frustrating.

So if your baby doesn’t want to eat from a spoon at the start of weaning, try feeding her directly from your (clean) finger.

Once your baby knows what to expect, try again with a spoon – and give them a spoon of their own to play with too. 

You’ll find your baby won’t be able to resist trying to get the food into their mouth – it will be messy but fun! And self-feeding skills will have begun. 

What you shouldn’t do, though, is force the spoon on your baby, says Sarah. “If babies turn their head, push the spoon away or generally make it known they don’t want it, don’t keep pushing it.”

And while using the ‘here comes the choo choo train’ method might be tempting –  it’s best not to use it as your baby might become reliant on you doing it every time to make them eat. 

Sarah suggests swapping to finger food for a few days, then trying with the spoon again. “Plus try putting something on the spoon they’ll really enjoy eating – which will often be sweet stuff like fromage frais or pureed fruit. But,” she adds, “don’t give up on the savoury flavours.”

Pics: Getty

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