If you’re confused about when to progress to the next stage of feeding and hoping that your little one will give you some sort of sign that he’s ready for solid food, you’re actually not wrong. Here are 5 visible signs that biology naturally gives us when baby is ready to eat!
Health Canada recommendations are to exclusively breastfeed (or formula feed) for the first 6 months old life. This new evidence-based suggestion replaces previous recommendations of feeding infants cereal and babyfood between 3 and 6 months.
Recent science has taught us more about a baby’s developing intestinal tract and digestive system, and shows that it is not fully prepared to digest solids until around 6 months of age.
We learn as we go and new knowledge helps us to move forward to a better future. Recent science has taught us more about a baby’s developing intestinal tract and digestive system, and shows that it is not fully prepared to digest solids until around 6 months of age. Which is not surprising, because it’s around this age that we as humans start showing some pretty clear signs that we are ready for more than just mamas milk.
1. Sitting up on their own
It makes sense to me that babies start sitting up around 5 to 6 months. It’s like the body’s way of preparing to eat. A laying position is best for nursing, but sitting is best for eating. Your baby’s back is becoming strong enough to sit up in a high chair without needing to recline. A reclined position is not good for solids, as it might encourage choking, and so baby needs to be able to sit unassisted.
2. They Put everything in their mouth
This is part of learning to chew and you can expect to see this pretty early because it also relieves gum pain. Your baby will mouth everything they get their hands on! Instinct is hard at work here, so be careful what you leave in grabbing distance. It’s all in preparation for that glorious first day of solids.
Teething toys are ideal now to develop their chewing skills and hand motor skills so give them lots of opportunity to use them.
3. Pincher grasp
Have you noticed the increased dexterity of baby’s fingers around 6 months old? They’re getting ready to pick up food and maneuver it into their mouths. It’s another way their body is preparing for the next stage of feeding and you can encourage this skill through play. My personal favourite is the string on my hoodie- my little guy pinches and grabs at it while nursing.
4. Tongue reflex is gone
It’s the biological norm for infants to thrust things out of their mouths before they’re old enough to eat. That tongue reflex is there to protect them because their digestive system isn’t ready for anything other than sucking milk yet. This reflex natually becomes diminished around 6 months. (Hmm. There’s that magic number again!) This tongue reflex prevents your baby from properly chewing and swallowing.
5. Eagerness and curiosity
Is baby bouncing up and down, smacking their lips and reaching out to you as they intently watch you eat your food? That’s a pretty good indicator that they’re thinking about the next step in food. This curiosity and eagerness is essential to them tackling a new skill and it’s very present around the 5 to 6 month mark. Humans are mimickers by nature and we learn by watching.
Ready or Not: Interpreting the Signs
It should be said that the presence of one or two of the above signs might occur significantly before the 6 month mark, but guidelines still tell us to wait.
If your baby is younger than 6 months but still seems eager to eat, try bringing them to the table and giving them spoons and cups to play with. The social aspect of family mealtimes is something they can definitely participate in now while they wait for the calendar to turn. You can also try putting a bit of breastmilk into a cup, or freeze some into a popsicle.
Alternatively, if your baby hasn’t reached all these milestones yet by 6 months, there is no rush. You can wait without worry until you’re sure your baby is ready. Perhaps 7 or even 9 months is more your baby’s style.
“Food before one is mainly for fun” is a fairly accurate saying. Table foods at this age will not replace breastmilk or formula as baby’s primary food source, and eating solids starts out as practice and play to develop their own self-feeding skills.
Skipping the Jars: Babyled Weaning
These new guidelines also support the Babyled Weaning approach, which discards cereals and purees in favour of soft cooked and grabbable “real food.” It encourages babies to feed themselves and to go at their own pace. Feed your baby simplified versions of what everyone else in the family is already eating. This makes starting solids easier and cheaper!
Recommendations are to start with iron rich foods such as meat and fish. My babies loved tilapia, shredded chicken and strips of steak. They mostly just play and suck on food at this point, though. You can expect more on the floor than in their tummies.