Why it’s important to teach babies to self-feed (and rejoice in the mess!)

If there is one thing I am guilty of as a parent, it’s going to all lengths to avoid mess.

When it came to feeding my son, I would often opt for spoon-feeding him rather than letting him dive right in, smear food all over himself, and dress the floor with bolognaise sauce. Thankfully I learned to turn a blind eye to spills and splattered walls and embrace the mess that little ones make at meal times, because teaching babies to self-feed is an important part of their development. And let’s face it, the sooner they get the hang of it, the easier life will be for everyone!

Once baby is sitting well and enjoying solids, there are many great reasons for encouraging safe self-feeding. Here are some of them:

It gives baby independence

They may be teeny-tiny, but our little guys want to be taken seriously. As babies learn to pick up food, drink from a cup, and use cutlery to (eventually) get food to their mouths, they are building a greater sense of autonomy. It’s through doing things for themselves, and having some independence that babies get to explore the process of eating and the nature of food.

It helps development fine motor skills

By scooping (also known as ‘raking’) food with their whole hand, by developing the pincer grip, and by practising to use a spoon and fork, babies are training their muscles and learning valuable coordination skills. As time goes on, these important skills and baby’s dexterity will continue to improve, standing bub in good stead for the seriously busy years ahead.

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Babies learn to monitor their own needs

Through self-feeding, babies are more able to respond to hunger and to stop eating once they are full, preventing overeating. They also get the hang of how much to bite and how long to chew before swallowing.

It’s brilliant sensory play

Yes, play! Because it is through play that babies learn about their world. Touching, feeling, squishing, and mashing food, which comes with such varied textures, is something babies love to do and an important part of their development. (Imagine how fabulous noodles feel to a baby!)

It’s rewarding – for you and baby

As babies progress along the path of self-feeding (and systematically stain every bib and t-shirt they have) their confidence will soar. For mums and dads, by standing back and watching baby feed himself you can learn more about your child’s food preferences and their particular style of eating. Of course, you also get your hands and a little time back, which is always welcome. Get ready to overflow with pride at your clever little bub’s new knack for eating.

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While the approximate age at which most babies can feed themselves is between 18 and 24 months, it’s important to remember that all babies develop at different paces. Getting the hang of self-feeding is something that takes patience to achieve over the early months and years. So in the mean time, ignore the fact that there is yoghurt in your baby’s hair (and the dog’s), and let those chubby little fingers learn their way around the world of food – in all its messy glory.

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