We often hear that babies should start solids at 6 months, which is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But what's the magic behind this recommendation? How do you know when baby is ready to advance past purees? What about Baby-Led Weaning? It's not a hard and fast rule, it's about reaching gross motor milestones (e.g, sitting, crawling, walking). As baby develops full body strength and coordination, their oral motor skills also mature.
Babies begin to show interest and readiness for foods between 4-6 months. This includes leaning into and reaching for adult food, mouthing hands and toys, and sitting up with minimal support. Baby will likely still have their tongue thrust reflex, pushing food out. That's okay. It diminishes with practice, and is not an indicator that baby is not ready. However, when it comes to starting solids, even a baby who is showing readiness before 6 months, is advised to wait. Although this is such an exciting time and you may be eager to start, there are many benefits to waiting until 6 months: baby's digestive system gets more time to mature, maximal benefit of immune system support with exclusive breastfeeding, ensuring nutritional needs are met, and reducing the risk of iron-deficient anemia.
What to look for in gross motor milestones, and how it correlates to feeding and texture progression:
Sits with minimal support and shows head control:
Soft mashable solids
Food "teethers" and large pieces of gnawing food (bell pepper spears, carrots quartered lengthwise, pineapple core, mango pit)
Rolls, Crawls, Creeps:
Small, soft bite-sized pieces of food
Introduce open cup or straw cup, offered with assistance
Self-feeding finger foods and preloaded spoons
Refined grasp for picking up foods between thumb and forefinger
Pulling to a Stand, Cruising, Climbing, Taking First Steps:
Coarsely chopped table foods
Soft, moist pieces of meat
Walking and Running:
Can take bites off of large, harder pieces of food (e.g., toast strips, meat patty,
No longer requires external support of high chair (but still benefits from use of straps to keep from climbing out!)
Independent with cup and self-feeding
By age 2, typical development supports the coordination and skill to manage a wide variety of foods, cups, and utensils. Your child should now be able to partake in the family meal, accepting most anything the family is eating. Also note, that if your baby has not progressed beyond purees by 9 months, it's time to seek support with a feeding therapist.