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 in luck. Here are 5 visible signs that biology naturally gives us when a baby is ready to eat more than just breastmilk or formula!
For the purpose of this discussion, “solid food “refers to any food other than breastmilk or formula. Even mushed-up blended foods are considered solid food.
Health Canada recommendations are to exclusively breastfeed (or formula feed) for the first 6 months of life. This new evidence-based direction 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 (pretty much) 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 can encourage choking, and so baby needs to be able to sit relatively unassisted. A high chair can provide the stability they need, so they don’t need to be completely sitting on their own- just strong enough to sit up with support.
2. They Put everything into their mouths
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 right now to develop their chewing skills, and hand motor skills, so give them lots of opportunity to use them. Consider wearing Chewable jewelry!
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 he is nursing, and this prevents pinching and biting mama.
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 suckling 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, and isn’t the same as a gag reflex.
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 typically 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 the guidelines still tell us to wait. It can be hard to be patient, though.
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. That’s completely okay and you don’t need to force it.
“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 passes over 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. Our sons all sucked the steak until it was white and then lost interest in it.
Veggies and fruits are great at this stage as well. Try giving baby some sliced avocado, mango, or soft-cooked sweet potato wedges. Anything that they can easily grasp in their little fist and chow down on.
Watch some YouTube videos to learn the difference between gagging (a normal process) and choking. Learn to trust your baby’s gagging skills as he or she learns to push food forward for more chewing if it is too large. Trust me, the videos really help with that. The first time my baby gagged I was terrified, but after watching the videos I learned he was not choking, just learning a new skill.
Share your Experiences
The internet is our Mom Village. Share your experiences with introducing solids with other readers in the comments below. And be sure to pin this article or share it on social media so that everyone can learn these important biological signs that baby is ready for solid food.
References and Further Reading:
Leigh Williams Kitchens says
This is a great list of readiness signs. It’s amazing how many people still think babies should start solids (ie: cereal) way early thinking it will help them sleep through the night, etc. I had not thought about signs such as sitting up unassisted and the pincer grasp before, but it makes a lot of sense!