How to Teach a Baby to Use a Spoon: An Expert Weighs in On This Huge Milestone
- Courtesy of Bella Tuna
- Written By
- Abi Berwager Schreier with expert advice from Michaela Bull, Occupational Therapist, OTD, OTR/L
How do you know when your baby is ready to self-feed?
According to Michaela Bull, OTD, OTR/L, there is not a one-size-fits-all timeframe for when your baby is ready to self-feed. She says there are several factors and indicators that come into play. “Being able to sit up-right with little or no support, and having a curiosity for food, e.g., watching others eat, reaching for food or utensils, opening their mouths when food is nearby, etc., are all indicators your baby is ready to self-feed,” she says.
“Additionally, the tongue-thrust reflex typically integrates between 4 to 6 months of age, which will allow your baby to keep food in his/her mouth to chew and swallow rather than push the tongue forward and spit the food out,” Bull adds.
As far as determining the readiness for self-feeding based on whether you’re following baby-led weaning or using a utensil with a puree first, Bull says, “Regardless of the method you choose to introduce foods to your baby, allowing them to explore foods of various textures and temperatures will increase their oral motor connection.”
“Babies are able to engage in food exploration, with both purees and whole foods, and bring their hands to their mouths to taste prior to development of fine-motor skills to use utensils,” says Bull.
She adds that utensils can be utilized when the baby is first introduced to solids, but they will most likely not be able to self-feed using spoons until around 10 to 12 months old.
What developmental milestone is holding a spoon?
In order for your baby to be able to hold a spoon and use it to feed themselves, Bull says you should nurture fine motor skills to start. “Fine motor skills involve the coordination of many small muscles within the wrists, hands, and fingers, and are required for tasks such as self-feeding — with hands and utensils,” she says. “As your baby grows and continues to learn new things each day, they will develop their fine motor skills and abilities to plan and execute new actions.”
One of the first fine motor skills your baby will master is called the “palmar grasp.” This skill is where your mini will be able to hold objects in the palm of their hands, and curling their fingers into a fisted position. Next comes the pincer grasp, says Bull.
Next, Bull says, “Around 9 to 10 months old, babies develop a pincer grasp, which involves grasping and picking up items using only the thumb and index finger. The pincer grasp requires development of fine motor precision skills, which is an exciting milestone for all babies to meet because it’s a precursor for more advanced skills, and it overall represents a connection from the brain all the way to the fingertips. What are the best ways to teach your baby fine motor skills? It’s through play, of course.
How do you nurture fine motor skills, the palmar grasp, and the pincer grasp?
Stacking cups are a great way to nurture your little fine motor skills, as well as something like this pull-apart pup toy for babies. This motor skills training cube is perfect for early learning and developing fine motor skills to keep your little engaged while fine-tuning their skills. And once your baby seems ready to feed themselves and have got a good “grasp” on some of their fine motor development (see what we did there?) you can use this step-by-step on how to teach your baby to use a spoon.
How to teach your baby to use a spoon
Bull says there are a variety of ways to encourage self-feeding using spoons with your baby, and usually it's trial-and-error to see what your baby responds to and what works best. She suggests using “pre-spoon” to deve op hand-eye coordination and the fine motor skills necessary for dipping or scooping food and bringing it to their mouth to take a bite.
“A pre-spoon is a utensil with a flat head and flat handle, eliminating the need to scoop and balance food when moving from the bowl/plate to the baby’s mouth,” Bull says.
However, Bull adds, “You may find that when you put a spoon in your baby’s hand, they will use the opposite hand to dip their fingers into the food rather than use the feeding utensil.”
“A good trick to address this issue is providing your baby with two spoons — one in each hand,” she says. Bull also says you can dip both ends of the pre-spoon or other feeding utensils into the food, because when learning to self-feed, babies display difficulties orienting spoons accurately and end up gnawing on the handle of the end of the spoon with no food.
And if all else fails, Bull says to provide hand-over-hand assistance, i.e., putting your hand over their hand and helping them use the spoon properly, until they are able to coordinate and execute the movements independently.
So what are the best spoons for teaching your baby how to use a utensil?
Types of spoons for babies
As Bull said, there are pre-spoons for babies, such as this set from Maison Rue, which has the flat piece around each utensil to prevent choking, and the silicone material is soft for your baby’s gums and mouth. Next, they can move up to this Bobbi Spoon, which doesn’t have the safety guard. And finally, these Otis Utensils are metal at the ends — mimicking your silverware — but has silicone at the top for your mini to grasp easily. And the best part about these spoons? They are all dishwasher safe.
Teaching your baby to use a spoon doesn’t have to be stressful. Make it fun for everyone by first, setting up your baby for success with nurturing toys to help develop their fine motor skills needed to use the spoon. Then have fun letting them e xplore the food on their own before using your own hand to guide theirs to help that food make a landing in their mouth — or at least close to it.
Michaela Bull, Occupational Therapist, OTD, OTR/L
Abi Berwager Schreier
Abi is an Atlanta-based lifestyle and parenting writer reporting on children's books and toys, fertility, pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding, parenting, medical health, mental health, and pop-culture.
Her byline has appeared in Insider, Parade, Romper, Baby Chick, alternative weekly Creative Loafing, and Atomic Family Magazine.
When she isn’t writing or copy editing, Abi loves being a mom to her 4-year-old son Jack, chugging coffee, cooking plant-based meals, working out, and spending time at home with the rest of her family — a husband, two cats, and two beagles.