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A Complete Guide to Teaching Your Baby to Self Feed

Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS · Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 05, 2022

A Complete Guide to Teaching Your Baby to Self Feed

Every parent experiences immense joy when their baby achieves a developmental milestone. From walking to self-feeding, every baby step counts. So what are the tips to teaching your baby to self feed.

Self-feeding is a big deal. For some babies, the skill comes sooner and some take their own time. But self-feeding takes an equal amount of effort from parents as they do while spoon-feeding their little one. Because, self-feeding requires its own set of tips, you’ll need to know the dos and don’ts.

In this article, we will give you some simple tips to help you and your baby sail through the transition of spoon-feeding to self-feeding smoothly.

Teaching Your Baby to Self feed: A Crucial Milestone

Before we talk more about the importance of self-feeding in babies, let’s first clarify that self-feeding is different from complementary feeding. Self-feeding is the act when the baby eats on their own, while complementary feeding is a part of nutrition where we introduce solid foods to the baby’s diet in addition to breast milk or formula milk.

Why is it important to teach your baby to self feed? There are great implications.

  • When your baby is learning self-feeding, the little one is also learning how to eat independently, a skill which they need to know and retain for their lifetime.
  • Secondly, self-feeding involves a lot of holding, dropping, squeezing and every messy action possible. Let them be. Because, with the help of self-feeding, they are going to improve their fine motor skills, like holding a spoon or a fork.
  • By learning self-feeding, they also learn a lot about the food texture, taste, and the convenience of eating them, etc. For instance, they will learn that it’s easier to eat pieces of mashed potatoes than a bowl of noodles. 

How Would You Know if Your Baby is Ready for Self-Feeding?

Generally, around 7 to 8 months is the most suitable time for you to start teaching your baby to self feed. By this time, your baby has learned to sit up by themselves and has started to practice the pincer-grasp reflex. To make a coordinated pinch, your baby will use their thumb and fingers together. You could watch for other signs to make sure that your baby is ready for solid foods, such as:

  • Being able to sit in a stable manner
  • Placing objects in their mouth
  • Chewing motions.
  • Holding the breast or bottle while feeding
  • Holding their neck while sitting upright

How to Encourage Your Baby for Self-Feeding?

Firstly, when teaching your baby to self feed, give your baby the freedom and opportunity to explore on their own.  

A little at a time

Give them some dry and big pieces of food, but not too big  to begin with. Giving them bigger pieces might lead to suffocation or choking. Or, you can scatter four or five pieces onto your baby’s dinner plate and keep adding gradually as your baby eats. This is because beginning with too much food, especially all in one spot, may make your baby eat them all up, not knowing when to stop.  Besides, you can build your baby’s confidence by praising them for using a spoon. If your baby cannot do it, do not force them. You may try again in a few weeks when your baby is ready.

Practice with finger food

When in the initial phase of self-feeding, begin with finger foods. They include pea-sized versions of firm foods such as cheese, bananas, pears, mangoes, and marble-sized versions of softer foods like bread and cooked pasta.

Monitor their eating

Always stay near or next to your baby while they are self-feeding. Your little one is trying a new habit of self-eating, so monitoring their comfort levels and being there as moral support makes all the difference.

Embrace the mess

Do not stop your kid from dropping their food. Don’t be embarrassed if they’ve spoilt their clothes or the table while self-feeding. Let the baby enjoy this new habit and learn all by themselves. Before introducing the spoon, encourage the baby to eat with their hands while self-feeding.

Seat at the table

Get your baby a separate high baby chair and sit for meals together with your baby and your family. When your toddler observes everyone eating, they could learn self-feeding faster.  Also, please avoid distractions during mealtime (TV, gadgets, etc.)

Which Finger Foods to Avoid?

Teaching your baby to self feed may come with risks, one of which is choking. Some foods are hard for babies to chew or gulp. These include whole peas, raw firm-fleshed vegetables, or chunks of meat. Such tricky food cannot dissolve in the mouth and nor can they be easily mashed by the gums. Such food also increases the risk of choking. Keep your child away from these foods at least in the beginning of self-eating.

Teaching your baby to self feed takes time. Don’t rush your baby into it. Once the baby is ready for self-feeding, you’ll come to know automatically through the signs shown by your little one. 

Learn more about Baby Nutrition here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS

Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 05, 2022

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