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How do I know if my baby is ready for finger foods?

You've probably heard that most families start finger foods between 4 and 6 months of ago, but how do you know if your baby is ready?

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Dear Is This Normal,

My 5-month-old is crazy about food! She reaches for my food and snatches it right off my plate if I’m not looking, and then cries if I take it away! Yet everyone says you are supposed to wait till they are 6 months old to start feeding them finger foods or really any food other than breastmilk/formula. And some moms are hypercritical/judgmental about it. I know her pediatrician suggested we can start rice cereal at 4 months and purees at 5 months, which we have but she’s ready for finger foods. What are your thoughts on this? How do I know if it’s time to introduce finger foods?

Signed, 

Hungry Baby

Dear Hungry Baby,

One of the most important things to keep in mind on your parenting journey is that no two babies are alike. Developmental milestones can give you a good idea of what may be happening with your little one, but they are by no means a locked-in blueprint of what to expect with YOUR baby from week to week or month to month. Every baby develops at a different rate, hits milestones at different ages, and generally does their own thing. Some babies breeze right past some of the bigger developmental stages without missing a beat—I have so many parent friends whose babies were like, “Yeah, crawling isn’t my thing, I’m just gonna start walking, mmmkay?” If you feel like your baby girl is ready for the next stage of foods, you would know because you know her best. 

What you described is an increasingly popular way to introduce solids called baby-led weaning. The idea is to skip traditional “first” foods like cereals and purees and go straight to finger foods, generally around 6 months old. Baby-led weaning helps babies develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and can help your little one develop healthy and varied eating habits by exposing them to a wide variety of flavors and textures right off the bat. With baby-led weaning, it isn’t so much about when to start finger foods, since everything your baby is eating is finger foods! That being said, there are some things to keep in mind and some developmental milestones your baby should have hit before you introduce more finger foods. Make sure she can hold her head up and sit upright completely unassisted. She should be able to use the pincer grasp to pick up pieces of food and be able to mash soft foods with her gums. Most parents start BLW at 6 months, and it sounds like you’re almost there. If you can check all those boxes, then go for it! This can be a really fun way to introduce solids.

So what are the best finger foods for baby if you go the baby-led weaning route? Well, that’s the beauty of baby-led weaning…your options are almost limitless. I mean, obviously, you’re going to stay away from large pieces of food, anything hard that can’t be mashed with their gums, and any allergens that are a concern for you. But other than that, the sky’s the limit. Common baby finger foods when you’re doing BLW can include steamed or baked fruit and veggies (think baked apple slices without skin or steamed broccoli with the stalk left on so they can hold it). Pastas are another great opton, as are moist shredded or flaked meats like chicken and salmon. Scrambled eggs or omelettes cut into strips, ripe banana, and slices of avocado are perfect, too. You just want to make sure anything you give her can be mashed between her gums, so test it between your finger and thumb to make sure it’s soft enough. And when she’s just starting out it’s actually easier for her to pick up and eat pieces of food cut into thin, long strips instead of small chunks or pieces. Give pieces one at a time, and make sure you’re sitting right next to her while she’s eating. Mealtimes with BLW can definitely be more of a family affair, which is so nice!

My advice is to try a bunch of different foods and see how she does. Just because she’s also eating finger foods, doesn’t mean you have to stop purees or cut back on breastmilk or formula until she reaches the appropriate age for those changes. It just means she’s ready for more, and experimenting with baby-led weaning can be a great way to accomplish that. Don’t worry about what other moms say—there’s always going to be someone who judges others for their choices. Just brush it off and do what’s best for your baby girl. 

Feed That Baby,

Is This Normal

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