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Teaching baby the art of self-feeding

Teaching your baby to eat on his or her own can lead to some messes. But be patient. Eventually your baby will find a way to get food where it's supposed to go.

Milk on the floor, food in your baby's hair, on the chair and maybe in your lap.

It takes a while for a baby to learn where his or her mouth is and how to direct food and drink into it using utensils. You can expect more than a few messy moments while your child masters this new skill.

Encourage self-feeding

At 9 months, your baby is probably eating small finger foods, such as pieces of banana. Perhaps mashed versions of your family's table food are on the menu too.

Even as your baby is learning to master eating solid foods, it's time to take the next step—encourage self-feeding. Begin by offering a baby spoon to play with at mealtimes. Your child may see you using a fork or spoon and try to copy what you're doing.

Once your baby has figured out how to hold the spoon, offer small portions of easy-to-scoop food. Mashed potatoes and pudding are good examples. Serve the food in a heavy plastic bowl that won't slide around.

Dip the spoon in the food and let your child try to get the spoon to his or her mouth. For a while you may want to alternate feeding your child and letting him or her try eating alone.

To help make mealtime fun, talk to your baby. This may encourage him or her to think of a meal as a pleasant, social occasion.

Present the sippy cup

Now is also a good time to introduce your baby to a cup, even if you plan to nurse or bottle-feed for a few more months. You can put breast milk in the cup. However, you might prefer to use water at first. It will be less distressing if it's spilled, flung or otherwise ends up on the floor or your clothing.

Cups for beginners are easiest to use if they have two handles and a lid with a spout to keep liquids from spilling. The spout helps move your baby from sucking to sipping.

Show your baby how to move the cup to his or her mouth and tip it to drink. Offer praise when he or she succeeds.

Don't be dismayed, however, if your baby treats the cup as a plaything for a while. But do keep this thought in mind: Drinking from a cup will improve your child's hand-to-mouth coordination. It will also begin to prepare him or her for the weaning process, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Minimize the mess

No matter what you do, your baby is likely to drop the cup, upset the plate or otherwise make a mess while he or she learns to eat like a grown-up. To keep things as tidy as possible, use a rigid plastic bib with a pocket designed to catch spills. And spread a newspaper, towels or a piece of plastic under the high chair. It will make cleaning up easier and might reduce your stress.

Eventually your baby will find a way to get the food where it is supposed to be. You may hear a squeal of delight from baby when this happens. In all likelihood, you'll be delighted too.

Reviewed 3/15/2022

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