When your baby won’t feed herself

If your baby still likes to be fed by you, here’s how to encourage her to self-feed

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Although it’s normal for tots to need a bit of assistance with their food well into their second year, most are capable of getting a piece of finger food from hand to mouth around the nine-month mark, and can use cutlery (messily) by about 18 months. So what do you do if your baby refuses to feed herself?

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Encouraging independence

Try some of these tactics to help your child master the art of feeding herself:

  • Use two spoons at mealtimes: one for her to experiment with, and one for you to shovel the food in with
  • Be a role model: eat together, and let her watch what you do. Encourage her to pick her own food up; don’t try to help her
  • Load a spoon for her and leave it on her tray so she can attempt to feed herself. Sticky foods like mashed banana or porridge work well
  • Give finger food snacks between meals
  • Initiate playtime with messy food like cold cooked spaghetti or jelly, to get her used to the sensation of having food on her hands
  • Choose child-friendly cutlery, with short, easy-grip handles. Some have angled heads to make it easier to get food from plate to mouth
  • Play games where she pretends to feed a soft toy with a spoon, to help her practise scooping motions
  • Try a fork instead of a spoon: some children find it easier to stab than scoop
  • Have one meal a day where you don’t help at all. Choose a time when you’re not in a rush! Don’t panic if she doesn’t eat; she’ll make up for it at the next meal
  • Use cutlery for non-food-related tasks, such as chopping up playdough, to get her used to handling it
  • Be calm about mess. If she’s used to you sighing or snapping about spilt food, she might be reluctant to try to feed herself. A long-sleeved bib and a plastic mat under the highchair will minimise the damage.

Is there a problem?

All children develop at their own rate, and some are slower to self-feed than others. If you have concerns, you may want to speak to your health visitor, for example if:

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  • Your baby seems to struggle with motor skills such as picking up a toy and putting it to her mouth
  • Your baby is over 10 months old and doesn’t demonstrate the pincer grip (being able to pick things up between thumb and forefinger)
  • Your baby frequently gags when putting things in her mouth
  • But otherwise, stay calm and take your time: self-feeding is simply another development in your little one’s life which will get better with practice.

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