During the past few months, I’ve given Zach many opportunities to explore eating with his fingers. On several occasions I’ve offered him small pieces of fruit or steamed vegetables that he can grab with his hands and bring to his mouth. I thought he would find this enjoyable, since he loves to eat, but it’s actually been super-frustrating for him!
Because he’s only 8 months old and hasn’t developed fine motor control yet, he can’t grasp the pieces with a coordinated pincer grip. He manages to use his thumb and index finger quite well, but then the food gets stuck to his hand and he ends up putting half his fist in his mouth in a desperate attempt to get some food. This frustrates him greatly and sends him into crying mode, so I decided to stop for a while and wait for his coordination to improve. I’ve also tried giving him large pieces of fruit that he can hold in his hand and munch on, but he ends up taking huge bites that he can’t mash with his gums, and he freaks me out when he starts to gag and turn red, so that’s not working either. He does very well with bread rolls and veggie puffs, and we can see how happy he is when he’s feeding himself, but the fruit isn’t working well just yet.
Today I received some amazing white peaches from our CSA. I wanted Zach to experience the joy of biting into a super-sweet late summer peach, so I cut up half a peach into small bite-sized pieces and placed them in front of him after his meal. He tried grabbing one piece, it got stuck on his hand, and he wailed in frustration. I pulled the sticky piece off his hand and he grabbed my wrist to lead my fingers to his mouth! This gave me an idea…
I took out a small fork, speared a piece of peach and fed it to Zach. He was delighted! So, I speared another small piece but this time I left the fork sitting on the edge of the plate. Zach immediately grabbed it, brought it to his mouth, and expertly pulled off the piece of peach with his lips. We repeated the process and Zach happily ate the rest of his peach with his fork! Not once did he poke himself, and he had a great time feeding himself with minimal intervention.
I’ve read on mainstream parenting websites that you shouldn’t introduce the fork until after 12 months of age because babies can poke their eyes or hurt their gums. I had used the fork to feed him fruit before, and it was clear that Zach knew exactly what the utensil was for. He didn’t wave it near his face, nor did he stab himself in the mouth. A little trust goes a long way when working with babies, I feel.
We tried it again in the evening with my husband and I took some video of the process. I’m really excited that Zach is exploring yet another facet of independent eating. His eagerness and focus let me know that we’re on the right track.