University of Otago research published today shows babies who feed themselves as soon as they start eating solids appear to be less fussy eaters.
The study, published in international journal Jama Pediatrics, looked at whether allowing infants to feed themselves instead of traditional spoon-feeding would reduce the risk of them becoming overweight or affect other developmental outcomes up to age 2.
Co-lead author Prof Rachael Taylor said they found self-feeding did not appear to lead to improved outcomes when it came to body weight.
But they did find evidence babies who fed themselves from the age of 6 months had a better attitude towards food at 12 and 24 months and were less fussy about food than spoon-fed participants, Prof Taylor said.
``We also found no evidence for previous suggestions that infants following a baby-led approach may not eat enough food, and no sign that they were underweight.''
Dunedin mum Holly Chapman, whose 3-year-old daughter Beth was part of the study, said letting babies feed themselves was worthwhile, if a little messy.
She had continued doing it with Beth's two younger siblings, Martha and Hank, and believed the benefits went beyond making them less fussy eaters.
It got them using all of their muscles in their mouths, which helped with language skills, helped with co-ordination and made it easier to tell when they were full.
``When they start playing with their food they have had enough.''
She believed other parents should give it a go.
The university's study involved a randomised clinical trial, which included 206 women, 105 of whom were assigned to an intervention that included support from a lactation consultant to extend exclusive breast-feeding and delay the introduction of complementary foods until 6 months of age.
This was the age at which infants were developmentally ready to self-feed, Prof Taylor said.
Prof Taylor and her co-authors cautioned there were some limitations to the study, including that it involved a small sample that was relatively socioeconomically advantaged.
That meant the results might not apply to infants with lower socioeconomic status.