There is always much debate around when is a right time to start giving our babies solid foods.
It’s true, it is important to know about the right time to introduce solids and to have an understanding gut health.
What we don’t discuss as often as when to start feeding a baby is how we feed baby once baby has started eating. The common idea on feeding small children is depicted in this image below:
The caregiver is very proactive, baby is strapped to a highchair, and being spoon-fed.
I never spoon-fed my son, and here the three reasons why:
I don’t think anyone would enjoy being held down in a chair with a spoon shoved in their face/mouth. To me, this just seems like another way we don’t trust that babies are fully capable beings and that they can feed themselves. I am all for independence, and I know if children feel that they are not in control of their experience, they will act out this frustration in other ways. Giving control where you can from a young age will cultivate a sense of empowerment and confidence for your child. If they grow up thinking they need you to spoon-feed (literally and figuratively) them, they could lack trust in their own ability, because YOU lack trust in their ability.
This isn’t about detached parenting. I fully promote the health benefits of attachment parenting. Understand that there is a huge difference in attachment parenting and “helicopter parenting,” if you will.
Attachment parenting is meeting a child’s biological needs. Needs that they come born with. Needs that if not met, they will develop an attachment hunger. Needs for optimal human development that can be measured. These needs are needs for breastmilk, human contact (including during sleep), responding to their cues, touch, etc.
Helicopter parenting is a lack of trust in your child’s ability to do that which they are, in fact, biologically capable of doing on their own, and stunting growth in that area because of heavy intervention.
A baby can feed themselves on their own without the help of an adult when developmentally ready. If they cannot, then it means they are not developmentally ready to. Same with things like walking and sitting up, both of which we shouldn’t assist in, or offer contraptions that assist in this before the child can on their own.
My son ate with his hands and over time taught himself how to use a spoon. I didn’t teach him, he simply mimicked us.
(Note: I am talking about the average child, not children with special needs).
- Fine Motor Skills
This one is pretty straight forward. Using the spoon for your child prolongs and prevents them from learning how to use it on their own. It is never too early to hand your baby a spoon once she has started eating solids. You being in control of the spoon means your child isn’t practicing using the spoon, and the earlier they start, the sooner they learn. You would be surprised at how young a baby can use a spoon if they were always the one in control of it.
- Baby-led weaning and skipping purees.
If you are skipping pureed food (which I highly recommend you do), then there is no reason for your baby to even need a spoon, really.
We skipped purees and I only fed my son pieces of soft fruit and steamed veggies in the beginning. He even liked to take the whole fruit (like a peeled banana or ripe peach) and gnaw on it himself.
The reason this approach (baby-led weaning) to eating is so important:
- Texture- Your baby gets used to experiencing many textures of foods from the get go. If everything is blended and mushy, they might get overly accustomed to that and become picky about other textures when they are older.
- Jaw use- they learn how to work and use their jaw muscles to eat. Something you don’t really have to do if everything is essentially already chewed for you. The younger babies are when learning how to eat appropriately, they more confident they will be with food and their mouth muscles will develop more optimally.
- Nutrients- Unless you are making all of your child’s food at home, the store bought baby food is highly pastuerized which means it is greatly lacking in nutrients.
- Control and Freedom- I have already addressed this above, but allowing your baby to explore their food and learn how to feed themselves has them develop a sense of confidence and coordination early on. It also respects their autonomy.
Some people might insist that their child won’t eat if they don’t coerce or help them. It is true that babies can easily get distracted. This is normal, as they explore, well….everything. As a parent or care-giver, you can still be totally present with your child without controling the experience for them. Sitting with you baby, observing and reflecting on what they are doing can be very fulfilling for them. No airplane spoon coming towards the mouth necessary.