Help! My baby turned 6 months and I was so happy to try Baby Led Weaning at last. But it turns out, he is not interested at all in any finger foods I am giving him. Should I be worried and how can I help him to learn to self-feed?
Self-feeding is a skill. Like all skills, it may take different times for different babies to master. Some are learning at a faster rate than others. Turning 6 months old does not mean that a baby magically turns into an expert self-feeder.
Imagine if all babies were expected to roll over or walk when they turned a certain age. Instead, there is a time frame when we expect them to meet certain milestones. For example, walking typically happens between 9 and 15 months.
Notice the gap?
But does it mean that we carry the baby in our arms all the time until he can literally jump out and run?
Of course not.
We provide them with a safe place and multiple opportunities to practice getting up, stumbling, falling and then do it all over again until they are ready to walk.
Learning to self-feed is no different.
The first time you give your baby a piece of finger food at about 6 months, or when he is ready for solids, he is equally likely to do any of the three things:
He will grab it immediately with his palm and bring it to his mouth to suck and gnaw.
He will work hard at trying to pick it up with his palm but not succeed in picking it up or bringing it to the mouth.
He will just stare at it and maybe touch it very carefully.
He will start crying and push the food off his plate.
And guess what? All of these reactions are normal.
It may take anywhere from 1 day to a few months for your baby to learn how to self-feed. In the meanwhile, our job as parents is to provide frequent opportunities to practice. This means having the baby join family meals and offering a few finger foods on his tray or plate, whether you are giving him purees or doing Baby Led Weaning.
Should you be worried about calories and nutrition as your baby learns to self-feed?
At this age, most of your baby’s calories come from breast milk or formula. But his iron needs to increase to 11 mg so it is best to include some iron-rich food in his diet, especially if you are breastfeeding. (Breast milk is low in iron, although its bioavailability is high). Check these iron-rich finger foods appropriate from 6 months.
If you see that your baby takes longer to learn to self-feed, make and freeze a few iron-rich purees like meat, chicken, bean or spinach or buy fortified cereal.
To make sure his nutritional needs are met, offer some iron-rich finger foods or purees twice a day. This way, you have peace of mind knowing that your baby is getting the important nutrition and your baby has some stress-free space and time to learn the important self-feeding skills.
How to help your baby to learn to self-feed
1. Eat with your baby often.
Your baby will learn from watching you and his siblings. He may even grab some of the food off your plate – mine certainly preferred whatever I was having, even if it was the same dinner!
Even if you are also feeding your baby purees, still have him join family meals so he can practice self-feeding and get exposure to family foods.
2. Offer a very small amount of finger foods.
Small babies get overwhelmed very easily and may refuse to even try to eat if they have a mountain of food on their tray or plate.
Instead, serve only 2-3 pieces of finger food so they have room to maneuver their hands and practice. Have more food ready in case she needs another helping.
3. Use a “hands-off approach”.
Enjoy your own meal instead of closely watching every bite your baby is taking or every attempt at self-feeding he makes.
Imagine someone was looking at you at all times ready to jump to help or cheer when you were concentrated on doing something new?
4. Cut the food in proper sizes.
Stick-shaped finger food 2-2.5 inches long is the best for this age. Your baby will be using his whole palm to pick up food, he is not likely to master finger/pincer grasp until much later, at 8-10 months.
If, after your baby grabbed the food using his palm, there is nothing poking out available for eating, he may get confused, frustrated, and lose interest in learning to eat.
5. Do not panic when your baby gags.
Sometimes babies put finger food too far in their mouth and trigger the gagging reflex. In small babies, the gagging reflex is at the front part of the tongue. It gradually moves to the very back as they grow up.
Gagging is a safety mechanism helping babies get rid of the food they are not ready for yet. As they learn to bite off and chew food, they may also gag occasionally if the pieces they are trying to swallow are too big.
Gagging is not choking. (link) If your baby gags when trying to self-feed, let her work it out yourself. You will notice that your baby gags less frequently as he learns to self-feed because he will know how not to put the food too far in the mouth and also will get better at chewing it properly before swallowing.
6. Make sure your baby is not hungry.
A starving student is not a good student. Give your baby a breast milk or formula feed if he is hungry before mealtime. Remember, he will not be able to actually swallow much of the finger foods, so we cannot rely on them for calories.
7. Get the whole framework to help envision how your baby’s eating skills are changing every day. If you have a couple of hours to watch a few actionable videos, check my Stress-Free Solids program – it’s completely online, straight-to-the-point and has videos of babies eating both finger foods and purees, in addition to recipes, a summary of all the transitions, schedules, nutritional guides and the latest scientific advice on introducing allergens.
Tell me, at what age did your baby start to self-feed?
Starting solids the easy, safe and stress-free way!
Let me show you how to feed your baby using the mixed approach, so you can be guided by your baby and not by a rigid philosophy.
Such an interesting post and you make such a good point that babies learn how to do things at vastly different rates. My youngest was stealing food from my plate and self feeding at five and a half months, there’s never been any stopping him!
My baby #3 also learnt how to self feed at around 5 months. She went crazy for a piece of broccoli she snatched from my plate! But I also know other babies who are much more cautious with finger foods. And it is ok 🙂
Great tips, especially the one on correct sizing to avoid frustration. Thanks.
Thank you Kyrstie!Thank you for stopping by 🙂
A great post. It’s also important to be able to recognize the motor skills and oral manipulations that each food requires. We adults take it for granted so much.
Exactly! It seems so natural to us to just take some food, put it in the mouth, chew and swallow. But for babies it is a huge learning curve. Thank you so much for stopping by, Simone 🙂
Such fantastic advice. Neither of my kids did BLW, as I didn’t even know it existed…but this is a fabulous guide!
Thank you Kylie! I did BLW with my number 3 and it was a great fit! I also fed her iron rich purees, but she was self feeding from the get-go pretty much. So much easier when you have to eat as a family. But definitely more clean up:)
My LO is 10 months and is still having a hard time self feeding. I am feeling frustrated and unsure if he needs early intervention at this point…
Hi Emily, it may be just normal for your little one. All kids are absolutely different and while some start self feeding at 6 months, others need much more time to learn how to manage finger foods. What of the strategies I describe in the article have you tried? Does he pick up the food and bring it to the mouth? Have you been able to branch outside smooth purees to thicker and chunkier texture?
I am also having a hard time with my 8.5 month old self feeding. He is uninterested in most solid foods and has an extremely tough time with chunky or mashed foods, he usually gags and throws up the food. He eats his purees great. He chews food when put in his mouth but does not make many attempts to do it himself , if left to his own devices with the food on his tray he will get aggravated and not want to eat at all. Feeling as though I am doing something wrong I have tried everything I can think of.
Hi Kayla, it takes much longer for some kids to learn to handle textures. And interest in solids may vary from one child to another. So it could be just a variation of the normal for your child. But it is very important to give opportunities to play with food, get messy and try to self feed. Another tip: put only very small amounts of finger foods on the tray, otherwise kids get overwhelmed. It is ok if he throws it on the floor, it is part of the learning process. It may not be about what or who you are doing it, just his individual preferences. Please email me if you would like more help: email@example.com.
We are at 25 weeks. Baby eyeballs every movement from plate to mouth. Gladly took a taste of a black bean soup when spoon offered but completely ignores finger food pieces in front of him. No hand gestures whatsoever. Loves banana only when propped to his mouth by someone else.
Do we just take a break from the entire eating thing and revisit in a few weeks when we are officially 6 months??
No weight issues here and very goos breastfeeding manners!
Hi and thank you so much for stopping by. 25 weeks if 6 months and 1 month, isn’t it? Or is it a mistake?
Well he will be officially 6 months on the 22nd of this month. Sorry for lack of clarity.
He took well to kefir in spoon today and some grossly pureed date-pear-orange mix but didn’t touch tofu stick. No attempt to reach even. I didn’t want to go puree so I am torn between waiting or doing purees. Also, is it normal that after a few spoonful of that and kefir he is still hungry and breastfed despite feeding prior to trial?
Another question is if I am making a mistake to offer mixed foods rather than pure purees or solids (carrot stick rather than a bit from my no salt soup). I really enjoy your website by the way! Referenced, well organized 🙂
Hi and thank you for your kind comments! It’s ok if he is not interested in finger foods yet. You can just wait a few more weeks to see if it changes or try the mixed method I describe in my online program. Either way, please don’t stress and just enjoy mealtimes together. I usually suggest starting with single ingredient foods but mixed are also ok if you have ho food allergy history. And yes, topping up with some ready milk after solids is absolutely fine. You can also offer some before solid meals if he is very hungry.