Hands vs Spoons During Baby-Led FeedingDec 13, 2020
I often get asked by parents that are starting baby-led feeding with their little ones, when should they introduce a spoon to their infant? Although there is no right or wrong time to introduce a spoon, I suggest offering a spoon from the beginning of your infant’s food journey at around 6 months. Here we will take a look at the benefits of your little one using their hands and a spoon to feed themselves during the early stages of starting solids.
Exploring food with hands
Hands are the primary tool for your little one to use to eat with when they first start solids. One of the three signs of readiness to know when your baby is ready to start solids, is that your infant can bring their hand to their mouth. This is a key indicator they are developmentally ready to start solid foods at around 6 months of age. During the period between 6 and 12 months your little one will become more skilled in how they can pick up food with their hands, including the pincer grip which develops at around 9 months of age.
When your little one uses their hands to eat, it is such an amazing sensory experience for them. Every day they are experiencing new textures, colours, flavours and even temperatures. Using their hands to explore the food and work on their hand-mouth coordination during this process is a good learning experience for them. It can be messy, but this is all part of the fun of baby-led feeding!
During baby-led weaning, my little one has preferred using her hands to feed herself and has quite a unique way of picking up food and feeding herself from the bottom of a scrunched-up fist. She was also slightly later than 9 months developing the pincer grip. These are both completely normal and she was still able to move food into her mouth, just in her own way.
In order to help your baby learn new skills and to transition to eating family meals, they will have to explore and learn how to use cutlery. I recommend offering your little one a spoon right from the beginning of baby-led feeding. You can place one or two of them (just in case one gets thrown on the floor) on their highchair right from their first bites. It doesn’t matter if your little one doesn’t show any interest in them at first, this is all part of the beginning of exposure to cutlery and learning a new skill.
I like to offer a spoon with a silicon head (check out these ones from Bamboo Bamboo). This is because they are soft and flexible, so if your infant were to put them in their mouth too hard while they are practicing their hand to mouth coordination, or to the back of their throat they are less likely to cause any pain. They can also use them to chew on if they are teething.
For me, offering a spoon to your infant is still in line with baby-led feeding principles. The purpose of the spoon is not for you to spoon feed your baby, but to allow them to independently explore the new tool and improve their eating skills over time. If baby is very new to the spoon and you are offering a food like porridge, plant-based yoghurt or mash potato then in the early stages you could pre-load the spoon and place it back on the highchair tray to allow your little one to taste some food from it. This provides them with some reward and demonstrates the purpose of the spoon before they have the skill to dip the spoon into the food and get it to their mouth in one motion.
If your baby is not motivated by a spoon at the beginning, this is completely normal, every baby is different and will develop at their own pace. Your baby may continue to enjoy the feeling of eating with their hands. Every day and every meal can be a different learning experience for them. By repeatedly offering a spoon, your little one can choose when they are ready to use it, but also are under no obligation to do so if they are not interested in it.
My toddler wanted to join in the baby spoon photo shoot!
Can I serve liquid or mashed foods if my baby cannot use a spoon?
Whether your baby is using a spoon or not does not have to restrict the types of foods you offer. The great thing about baby-led weaning is that baby can join in with family meals from the beginning of their food journey. With some slight adjustments to your meals, you can offer traditionally more liquid family foods to baby as well. For example
- Porridge can be cooked for a little longer to make it thicker and sticky so baby can easily pick it up with their hands.
- Blended soups can be offered with large soldiers or chunks of bread soaked in it so baby can pick up the bread and suck the soup off or eat the soup-laden bread.
- If you are making a home-made soup you could cut the vegetables in a chunkier size and leave it unblended for your little one so it is more like a stew. This way they can easily pick up the soft vegetables.
- Yoghurt could be offered with soft fruit mixed through it, for example banana or kiwi cut into safe baby-led weaning shapes.
A great habit for you to get into is to share meals and eat at the same time as your little one. This allows them to see you eating with cutlery as well as enjoying healthy and varied meals. Your baby will love eating with the family and watching how you and others in the family eat. Role modelling helps to introduce healthy eating habits from an early age.