How and when to introduce solid foods to your baby are classic new parent concerns. Most new parents have questions regarding the introduction of solid food into their baby's diet. The answers are as numerous as there are relatives in any given extended family. Introducing table food and table behavior/manners have as many variations as there are cultures in the world. As in all things parenting and family, there is science, belief, art and culture.
How do you know when your baby is ready for solid foods and/or table food?
In all child development, there is a range of normal. Each baby is unique, however, barring any unusual circumstances, most babies will begin to show signs of interest and ability to eat solid food sometime in the second half of their first year, somewhere between 6 months and 1 year of age.
Some indicators of readiness for solid foods are; your baby's ability to sit up reasonably well with head control, the ability to pick up small objects with his/her fingers, and showing an obvious interest and curiosity in the activity of eating by family members.
The ability to pick up small objects with fingers and thumb is referred to as the pincher grasp. It is a fine motor skill that is apparent with the new ability to pick up and hold something with a thumb and forefinger. You will begin to observe your baby develop this fine motor skill usually sometime during the second half of the first year.
Introducing table foods isn't an immediate or instant replacement for breastmilk. Ideally, breastfeeding will continue through at least the first year of baby's life as new foods are introduced into his or her diet over time. Table foods and family meals will gradually replace nutrition at the breast as baby learns the joy of meals with family.
When your baby shows the acquisition of the skills described above, you can begin to present the option of some self-feeding. Offering soft raw or cooked foods cut and given in very small pieces about 1/4 of an inch in size for baby to pick up and get into his or her mouth is an excellent way for learning the skill of self feeding. Granted at first this may take more patience on the part of care givers but baby learning to self-feed will pay off in the long run. Vegies and fruits are an excellent first foods. Introducing foods in this way makes including baby at the family table a natural process. Simpler and less labor intensive than grinding or mashing foods specifically for baby, this also gives baby the opportunity to learn the skills of self feeding and family socializing at the table.
At the table with the family at mealtimes. Many families find that babies enjoy being at the family table with the rest of the family from the very early days of life. Nursing babies will enjoy some time at the breast while also being at family meals. They will grow into being interested in the activity of eating and self-feeding. Being on the nursing mother's lap during a family meal gives the baby the option of nursing or participating in sampling what is available.
While being present at family meals on an adult lap, baby observes family interactions and listens to family conversations. There is so much opportunity for learning to take place in the company of parents and siblings at mealtime.
Sometime during the second half of the first year of life, a baby who has had the opportunity to observe other family members enjoy a meal will begin to show some signs of interest in eating family foods as well. With a little bit of planning a baby can begin to participate without too much deviation from the family meal menu. And the benefits of family mealtime together will be beyond nutrition and last a lifetime.