How will we know when Oliver is developmentally ready to start solids? There are a number of signs we will look for, most of which will manifest between six and nine months of age. It is not essential that he show all indications of readiness before we give him his first solids, but he should show at least the first two or three. Some of the common signs that a baby is ready for solids include:
1. Sitting unsupported. Preferably, the baby should be able to pull him or herself into a seated position without assistance (which usually happens closer to seven or eight months). Babies, like adults, should always eat in an upright, seated position. This enables food to fall out of the mouth if it hits the baby’s (protective) gag reflex.
2. Absence of the tongue-thrust reflex. This is the reflex that pushes foreign substances out of a very young baby’s mouth in order to prevent choking. It usually diminishes and then disappears in conjunction with the baby developing the ability to sit unsupported. The tongue-thrust reflex can be overridden by repeated spoon feeding (e.g. of purees), but only when the reflex disappears naturally is the baby truly ready to chew and swallow solid foods.
3. Ability to pass objects from hand to hand. Babies need to be able to deliberately release food from the hands into the mouth in order to actually consume it.
4. Pincer grasp. The ability to pick up small objects with the thumb and forefinger allows babies to eat a variety of different foods of different shapes and sizes. Early feeding experiences will likely involve larger pieces of food, so this is not essential at first.
5. Appearance of teeth. This is a good sign of physical readiness, however, babies can still very safely “chew” and swallow developmentally-appropriate (soft) solid foods without teeth, and can taste or suck foods that they cannot yet chew.
6. An interest in food and meal times. This on its own should never be taken as a sign of readiness, as babies are by nature very curious about everything around them; however, a baby who displays little or no interest in foods should never be forced or coerced into eating them.
Interestingly enough, it appears that the mechanisms and enzymes necessary for the digestion of solid foods usually develop in conjunction with the gross and fine motor skills required to consume the food!