When Babies Can Eat Finger Food Tips

Baby eating finger foods
Baby eating finger foods. Getty Images/Jamie Grill/Tetra images

Common Questions from Cautious Parents

I often field questions like these from parents who are cautious about starting finger foods for baby:

  • Don't they have to have teeth?
  • What if they don't get enough calories?
  • Shouldn't we wait until after one year?

The truth is your baby is most likely going to be ready for finger foods well before his first birthday (talk to your pediatrician for a more precise timing).

And contrary to popular opinion, your baby does not need a single tooth in order to eat finger foods, just as long as the food is diced in small enough pieces and is soft enough for his gums to chew.

When Is Baby Ready For Finger Foods

A baby's development isn't like a light switch that turns on at an exact age (in months). Babies progress at their own pace. So when it comes to starting finger foods, you'll want to be sure that your baby has reached these milestones first, likely sometime between 7 to 10 months of age.

  • Can hold head up
     
  • Able to sit up upright completely without support or assistance. Babies who slump or slouch are far more likely to choke.
     
  • Displays the pincer grasp. Babies can't feed themselves if they can't get it to their mouths!(See info or grasping skills in babies.)
     
  • Able to mash soft food between the gums (no teeth required!)

Other Safety Tips

Additionally, you'll want to follow these tips before starting your baby on finger foods:

  • Never-ever leave your baby unattended while eating finger foods. Choking can happen in the proverbial blink of an eye.
     
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new policies on when you can introduce certain foods. More than likely your baby can have more foods than what you thought.
     
  • Only give your baby foods that are in small enough pieces for your baby to handle and are soft enough for his gums to mash. See Suggested Finger Food Ideas for healthy options.
     
  • Before you begin finger foods, talk to your doctor about his or her thoughts first.

Helping Baby Learn To Feed Herself

Once baby can sit up and bring her hands or other objects to her mouth, you can give her finger foods to help her learn to feed herself. Make sure anything you give your baby is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces. Some examples include:

  • Small pieces of banana
  • Wafer-type cookies or crackers
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Well-cooked pasta
  • Well-cooked chicken finely chopped
  • Well-cooked and cut up yellow squash, peas, and potatoes

At each of your baby’s daily meals, she should be eating about 4 ounces, or the amount in one small jar of strained baby food. Limit giving your baby foods that are made for adults. These foods often contain more salt and other preservatives.

Which Foods Should Not Be Given to Baby

  • Foods that require chewing beyond what the gums can do
  • No hot dogs, including meat sticks or baby food hot dogs
  • No nuts and seeds
  • No chunks of meat or cheese
  • No whole grapes
  • No popcorn
  • No chunks of peanut butter
  • No raw vegetables
  • No fruit chunks, such as apple chunks
  • No hard, gooey or sticky candy

Source:  American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org.

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