Thanksgiving is a time to gather family and friends and share a delicious meal. You envision a table full of loved ones - or perhaps just your small family - and enjoying favorite dishes from recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Unfortunately, it's not always how Thanksgiving works. For parents with picky eaters, Thanksgiving may be stressful as you anticipate comments what family members will say about your kid's eating habits (and what they imply about your parenting). Perhaps you're doing Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) and you worry that loved ones will not understand how your baby is eating. The sights and the aroma’s might be completely delicious to adults, but for many children, especially picky eaters or children with special needs or allergies, this special meal can cause stress to the whole family.
Remember, flexibility is important with all things, especially children and holidays.
We've laid out some strategies for keeping Thanksgiving fun and low-stress with your BLW baby or selective toddler.
Tips for self-feeding babies.
Tips for selective eaters.
If your child has known food allergies, make sure to inform your host ahead of time. Always ask for ingredients in foods you didn't make, and consider bringing allergy-friendly Thanksgiving dishes your child can enjoy so they can be part of the celebration.
If you're peeked around our website or followed us on Instagram, you're well aware that we love Baby-led Weaning (Infant Self-Feeding). I (Megan) have been teaching it since 2013 to thousands of families in the Phoenix, Arizona area, and Judy and I released an online version of the course in 2017 utilizing feeding therapy and nutrition therapy techniques. Read what our clients are saying about our courses here.
With that being said, BLW is not appropriate for all families. We are not here to judge or recommend only one type of infant feeding; our goal with this post is to provide a resource for friends and family members who may be confused about BLW or may want to learn about its benefits. If your child has any medical or developmental issues, be sure to speak with your pediatrician before going this route.
Click the link below for a PDF version of this downloadable!
Many modern moms (and dads) rely on Facebook support groups for information about all things parenting - feeding, behavior, development, potty training, and even car seat safety. With the influx of resources comes an overload of information, including "rules" or "guidelines" that sometimes aren't based in evidence. One such example that has been floating around the interwebs is the idea that baby "should be developing a pincer grasp" to be ready for solids.
This is simply untrue. A baby does not have to have mastered, or be developing, a pincer grasp to be ready for solid foods.
What's more, a baby may develop an "emerging" pincer grasp early, but a true pincer grasp takes an extraordinary amount of fine motor skill on baby's part. It does not fully refine in most cases until 10-12 months. We can't wait until a true pincer grasp is mastered before offering food because we would be waiting too long.
This "pincer grasp" guideline found in circulating memes and graphics is not documented by any major medical group or health organization. To our knowledge, there is no data to connect this skill to baby's readiness for solid foods.
Does a pincer grasp help baby eat small pieces? Absolutely. Is it helpful when baby can do it? Totally! Is it an important developmental skill? Yes! However, baby can still pick up larger pieces of foods, usually the shape of a strip or stick, around 6 months.
Before we go any further, let's officially define a pincer grasp. The pincer grasp is when baby touches just the end of their index finger to just the end of their thumb to form a circle in her fingers. Many of the grasps that babies use as they develop a pincer grasp allow them to pick up smaller foods, but they're not technically a perfect pincer until just the index and thumb touch at the ends. Since this is a sophisticated grasp/skill that takes months for babies to develop, it's something that should not be a pre-requisite to giving food.
We of course want baby to begin to develop her pincer grasp so she can pick up peas, quartered grapes, beans, and rice, but don't be discouraged if your six-month-old (or even your nine-month-old!) hasn't mastered this skill. It is normal. Remember, a true pincer grasp does not emerge in most babies until 10-12 months.
So, how can you best help your baby develop pincer grasp and fine motor skills in general? Like most things developmental, specific skills build on one another in infancy and childhood. We want to promote baby's skills early on and foster fine motor development so that baby is ready for eating all shapes of food, coloring, and eventually writing later in life.
No matter the age of your baby, you can do simple activities that help her eventually develop pincer grasp and more mature hand movement. Here are some developmental expectations and ways to help your baby with fine motor development, starting at birth. Remember, all babies develop a little differently, so contact your pediatrician if you're concerned about your baby's progress.
We recommend starting complementary foods around 6 months and when baby is showing readiness signs, including independent sitting on the floor. Follow your baby’s development and challenge her to do a more complicated food as she demonstrates readiness signs, including practicing with more refined grasps. Your baby may start out a feeding with great excitement but can get messier and more frustrated as the meal progresses, since she might tire and fatigue easily. As your baby becomes a toddler, it is normal for her to start the meal without much mess, using utensils or pincer grasp, but she might revert to what I call “cave man style” eating - shoveling it in and getting messy - as she fills her belly.
The 7.5-month-old below is practicing his emerging pincer grasp with great attention. Even though he won't refine it for a few months, he's trying to slide his fingers together. Offering some smaller foods with larger pieces helps challenge your baby for the next developmental step.
Below is a video of an 11-month-old working on refining her pincer grasp. Notice how she still uses the middle finger with her index finger and thumb and reverts back to a more whole-hand grasp as well. With practice, she will use her true pincer grasp more and more!
Here's a video of a 12-month-old rockin' her pincer grasp:
Notice how this sweet baby (10 months) is focusing very hard on using his index and forefinger. As babies get older, their grasps get more specific and refined.
This 11-month-old is practicing her pincer as well.
This 14-month-old can use her pincer grasp to pick up a small pea. It takes a lot of practice to handle such small foods!
Baby Lou, one of our BLW online course models (now 14 months), is going in for some beans with his pincer grasp.
Once a baby has a pincer grasp it is recommended to offer baby a wide variety of shapes and sizes of food. Remember, just because a child has a pincer grasp does not mean she will use it for every food. Encourage easier pick up of foods by sprinkling crumbs onto a slippery food item for better grip.
By 12 months, most babies will still prefer larger pieces of foods cut into long finger-shaped sizes instead of small bites sized pieces, but some may like to practice their pincer grasp over and over. Offer all safe sizes of food so that your baby can practice multiple skills. Eventually your baby will learn to load spoons and forks with food too!
Sitting with minimal assistance is one of the most important readiness signs for feeding solids. For many babies, unassisted sitting happens around 6 months, which is also when we think the gut and immune system are most ready for complementary foods. (Note: this guideline refers to all "solids," including pureed foods or "baby food.")
Why is sitting unassisted so important? First and foremost, we want your baby to be safe, and if he isn't sitting well with good trunk control his airway may be compromised. However, there's even more to sitting than safety. Gross motor skills, including postural support and sitting, are precursors to good feeding skills. Our bodies have to be in good alignment for our hands and mouth to work optimally. Postural control and gross motor function greatly influence your child's ability to coordinate feeding skills, like bringing food to mouth and chewing. Interesting, right?
My first job as an Occupational Therapist was at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where I was fortunate enough to have Regi Boehme, OTR, as a regular mentor to our clinic. Regi was a gifted Occupational Therapist who created Boehme Workshops for Therapists (www.boehmeworkshops.com). Regi taught us that everything we ever need at the mouth (feeding, swallowing, and speech) originates from the hips. In her memory, I write this for parents to better understand why sitting skills are an imperative precursor to feeding..
I will always remember Regi saying this phrase: “Stability at the hips will follow at the lips."
Thus, for your baby's best success at feeding, wait until he is sitting unassisted on the floor before offering any food. Sitting propped in a Bumbo is not the same as unassisted sitting on the floor, and use of these propping chairs actually doesn't help develop sitting skills. (Read on for help teaching your baby to sit.)
Interestingly, your baby's developmental milestones build on one another in helping him learn to sit and eat food. Below are some common milestone guidelines for the first half of infancy. Remember, all babies develop at their own pace, so your baby may not be on this exact timeline. Discuss any developmental concerns you may have with your pediatrician.
Gross- and Fine-Motor Skill Developmental Milestones:
Think about development of your baby in these terms:
Head control, trunk control, stability and alignment are all essential for motor control and coordination of the jaw, tongue and lips. In other words, for the mouth to work effectively, your baby's body must have stability, alignment and control. This coordination allows baby to learn to feed herself, and strengthening of these muscles and reflexes eventually leads to speech development!
Another way to think about it: Development is a “delicate balance between stability and mobility” (Morris 1987). All the pieces falling into place allows your baby to become a walking, talking, self-feeding child.
So, when you're preparing your child for food, it is essential that he is learning to sit. It is not worth starting early (before 6 months) if baby doesn't have the stability and trunk control for sitting. In fact, when we work with children who haven't mastered sitting, they tend to have uncoordinated hand and mouth movements and don't seem to understand what to do with food. Sitting is a precursor to successful feeding for a reason.
How can I teach my baby to sit?
Just like every other skill, practice makes perfect! Practice sitting on a carpet or soft flooring multiple times a day as early as 4 months. Place a toy or small drum between baby's legs to give him something on which to focus. Put a Boppy or other pillow around his back in case he falls, and watch closely until he is really steady in case he falls over. If you don't want to use a pillow, place your hand around his torso or on his back until he gets stronger.
How long does my baby need to sit on the floor to be sitting "well enough" for solids?
Baby shouldn't immediately topple over when placed on the floor. If baby can sit unassisted for at least 20-30 seconds on the floor, try a high chair. Ensure that baby doesn't lean in the high chair or doesn't seem floppy or uncoordinated.
How do I know if my child's in a good position in his feeding chair?
Briefly check your baby's postural control and trunk stability the first time you put him in a feeding chair. How does he look? Is there anything you can do to add more support to the chair to make him more in control to reach his food? If so, add support and see if it makes a difference (see below for ideas). Some babies don't like sitting in a high chair because they feel uncomfortable or unsteady.
What if my child seems unsteady or uncomfortable in a high chair, even though he can sit on the floor unassisted?
Sometimes your baby can sit well on the floor but over time starts to lean once placed in a high chair for a prolonged period. This may be the result of a very big chair without much support, including the lack of a footrest. You may notice that your baby seems uneven, floppy or uncoordinated, even though he can sit on the floor for a while without fatiguing.
To remedy this:
Below are some examples of my infant and toddler clients (and their siblings) in their feeding chairs. Sometimes baby's legs aren't long enough to hang off the edge of a chair, but once they are you may be able to add additional support for a foot rest. Use of back support or rolled up towels can help baby from leaning.
Before foot rest is added:
Pool noodle as a foot rest:
Before foot rest:
Toddler with feet on a cushion:
Toddler with great feeding positioning in a BABYBJORN chair.
Back and side support with rolled-up towels:
If my baby is showing readiness signs for food, including sitting unassisted before 6 months, should I give him food?
This one is up to you. We still think that "around 6 months" is the average ideal time to offer food to babies given their digestive system and immune system development. Does something happen the moment your baby turns 6 months old? No. Use your parent judgment - try to wait til around 6 months, but if baby is showing all of the readiness skills by 5 months or 5.5 months, it's up to you whether or not you want to start. As you know by now, sitting is a major precursor to feeding, and most babies aren't sitting unassisted until closer to 6 months - everything starts falling into place around then!
There's no harm to waiting until 6 months, and you can give baby frozen breast milk or formula popsicles at mealtime in the interim. Note: many promotors of BLW say that baby should not get any food until exactly 6 months, but guidelines are based on averages and means. Some babies will be ready a little earlier, some will be ready a little later. "Around 6 months" is the technical guideline.
What if my baby isn't sitting unassisted by 6 months?
Keep working on it! Sometimes babies just need more practice. Include plenty of tummy time in your baby's day, and work on sitting multiple times a day. Don't forget to make it fun! Your baby will pick up on your stress.
If baby isn't sitting by 7 months, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if your baby has any developmental delays or medical issues, talk to your therapy team about safety and readiness signs for solids. We don't want to wait too long for solids, as we miss a critical allergenic, digestive, and developmental window.
So remember...when you get your baby's hips aligned, his lips (and mouth and tongue) will be more ready for food!
Feeding a baby or toddler can seem very overwhelming. There are so many routes to take, potential products to buy, things to consider. In a time when parents are bombarded with too much information, choosing the right approach for introducing solids may be more overwhelming than ever.
Our followers know that while we love the Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) developmental approach (and even have an online course all about it), we also support all families on their feeding journey and recognize that what works for some doesn’t work for all. Yes, we work with families who spoon feed and love to help them make that a positive experience. No, we don’t think spoon feeding is unnecessary for some families, nor do we think that there’s one right way to feed a baby. Ultimately, we want feeding to be a positive experience where the caregiver follows the baby’s lead. We also want the caregiver to have positive feelings about the feeding experience, since babies can pick up on anxiety surrounding mealtime.
Eventually, the goal for every baby (barring health or medical issues) is independent, safe self-feeding. This may happen at a different rate for each baby. We’ve seen some confusion about how long to spoon feed, transitioning from spoon feeding to self-feeding, if food before one is even important, and other feeding fiction over the last few months in our Feeding Littles Group on Facebook. We want to set the record straight from a nutritional and developmental perspective on a few key feeding issues.
1. There are essentially two main approaches to infant feeding - Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) and traditional feeding (sometimes referred to as Traditional Weaning). While the approaches seem different, the eventual goal for both BLW and traditional feeding is self-feeding all safe textures.
Baby-led Weaning is defined by babies feeding themselves whole foods (not exclusively purees) from the start. These foods are offered in the shape of a stick or strip because 6-month-olds usually lack the pincer grasp and cannot pick up a small piece of food. However, many parents are nervous about babies eating textures like avocado, banana, cooked sweet potato, or softly cooked chicken, so a modified approach may work better for these families. Offering pureed or mashed food on loaded NumNum GOOtensils (or dumping a puree on baby’s tray!) can be a good way to start letting your baby feed herself a texture that makes you feel more comfortable. Once you see her maneuver the food in her mouth, you may be willing to offer her other foods. Learn more about smart spoon feeding here.
2. Anything that’s not breast milk or formula is considered a “solid” or a “complementary food,” and we don’t recommend offering these foods until baby is ready.
Some parents confuse the guidance on offering complementary foods because they assume that pureed food is not a “solid.” Recommendations to wait until around 6 months for solids apply to feeding your baby any type of food that isn’t breast milk or formula. In assessing readiness, keep in mind that sitting with minimal assistance is key. For most babies, this is around 6ish months. Read more about developmental milestones for solid readiness here.
3. Food before one is not just for fun.
In fact, introduction of food in the second half of infancy is extremely important for a variety of reasons. The term “food before one is just for fun” sounds catchy and has gained in popularity since the BLW movement has gained momentum, but the unfortunate reality of this phrase is that some parents take it to mean that food has no importance before one and breast milk is all a baby needs. Some “crunchy” circles consider it best to not give baby any food except breast milk until 1, which can set baby up for a host of developmental, allergenic and nutritional issues.
Yes, breast milk or formula fulfills the majority of baby’s nutritional needs in infancy, but at or around 6 months of age baby needs some iron and zinc from food. Allergenic foods are important to introduce by around 6 months as long as baby does not have a high allergy risk (parent with an allergy or eczema/other allergic condition – if this applies, talk to your doc). If you skip offering food until 1 year of age, you may potentially miss a key allergen window. Plus, babies who don’t have exposure to various food textures by around 9 months run the risk of feeding issues later in life. They also miss exposure to a variety of flavors and may be less likely to accept strong flavors as they get older. We work with toddlers who have struggled to accept new textures and flavors for a variety of reasons, including lack of exposure in infancy, and it can be tough on the entire family. Of course, sometimes kiddos end up in feeding therapy or nutritional counseling for many reasons out of a parent’s control, but not offering food to babies after around 6 months of age and letting them play, explore, taste, chew and learn about food is a concerning trend in the parenting world.
Above all of these reasons, we encourage parents to watch their baby’s cues and to follow their lead with feeding. Many babies are interested in food as they approach 6 months of age. Not letting them eat food of any kind until 12 months hinders their natural interest in the world around them and doesn’t let them model what they see adults and other children do every day – eat food! They also miss out on the social and language-building element of eating together. Yes, we need to wait until baby is ready for food, but waiting much past 6-7 months doesn’t give your baby some sort of advantage (barring medical issues); it may prevent him from being the eater he’s meant to be.
This phrase may also be taken to mean that food introduction can be casual. We strongly support keeping mealtimes fun and low stress and not worrying if baby misses a food meal due to teething or illness, but we've seen in time and time again that babies who get more practice with food are more skilled, successful eaters.
4. Make sure baby can pick up the size food you offer.
This is especially important in Baby-led Weaning, where baby feeds herself from the start. Since 6-month-olds lack a pincer grasp, offering diced up food can make them frustrated. As your baby becomes a more skilled self-feeder, she can handle smaller pieces of food.
5. It’s important to follow your baby’s lead.
Some parents become frustrated when their spoon-fed baby starts grabbing for the spoon. Remember, we want all babies to eventually self-feed, so this is a great first step! Offer her the spoon (or a NumNum GOOtensil) loaded with some mashed or pureed food, and try some soft finger foods like avocado or banana spears, softly cooked chicken, or cooked sweet potato spears after that.
6. If you have decided to spoon feed your baby, we recommend encouraging independent self-feeding by no later than 14-16 months.
Of course, if your baby has developmental or medical issues, this may not be the case. Some parents love spoon feeding their baby and enjoy making baby food. If that works for you, great! Spoon feeding is not meant to be forever, and the term “traditional weaning” doesn’t mean that baby is always fed by his parents. That’s why technically you don’t “switch” from traditional weaning to BLW – inherent in traditional weaning is the idea that your baby eventually self-feeds.
Even though it’s a messy process, let your baby and toddler feed himself a variety of foods. Regularly putting food in your toddler’s mouth and not letting him try it himself prevents him from developing the skills needed to self-feed. It can also lead to distracted eating or overeating and a host of other feeding issues.
7. You do not have to wait 2 weeks between spoon feeding a baby and giving her finger foods.
The myth that there should be a “rest period” after stopping spoon feeding and before letting your baby self-feed whole foods has been flying around BLW boards for years, and it’s simply not backed by science. The theory behind this “guideline” is that when babies go from being fed a puree to putting foods in their own mouths, they are more likely to choke because they will swallow the food without chewing. Well, babies new to BLW who have never had any kind of food may also try to swallow without chewing - that’s what they have the protective airway mechanism that is the gag reflex. In fact, Judy uses smart spoon feeding and self-feeding other textures within the same feeding therapy session all the time. The entire premise behind BLW is that it is safe for a baby to self-feed all textures; if this 2-week “rule” were true, it wouldn’t be deemed safe to let baby self-feed yogurt, hummus and guacamole while simultaneously letting them self-feed spears of avocado or cooked broccoli.
8. Gagging is a reflex and is your baby’s way of safely protecting her airway. However, gagging should improve over time.
For many babies new to self-feeding whole foods, gagging is a common thing. It should get better with practice. If your baby continues to gag very frequently after many weeks of practicing with real foods, talk to your pediatrician. Excessive gagging can lead to a feeding aversion.
9. A choking hazard is a choking hazard for all babies, independent of feeding style.
Just because a baby starts food utilizing BLW doesn’t mean he can “handle” choking hazards better than another baby. Cut grapes, cherries, and cherry tomatoes into quarters, and remove skin or small bones from meat. Avoid popcorn, chips, gum, and hard candy until age 4. Apples and raw carrots are unexpected choking hazards; we recommend softening both or shredding before serving (until age 4).
10.You do not have to offer only vegetables if you want to raise a veggie-lover.
Fruit won’t ruin your baby. Have you ever tasted breast milk or formula? Yup, very sweet. Your baby already knows what sweetness is, and starting on just vegetables hasn’t been shown to improve his diet quality long-term. What does help foster adventurous eating is exposure to ALL foods, with lots of repetition - some babies don't like foods until they've seen them 20-30 times!
You don’t have to offer fruits with every meal, but rather make sure to have at least one veggie and/or fruit at every meal for exposure to different flavors and nutrients. Don’t forget to pair the produce with a high-iron food like beef, salmon, chicken, lentils or beans!
11. When your baby turns 1, you can offer a sugary cake – or not.
Do whatever makes you feel comfortable. (Judy and I gave our kiddos real cake, for what it’s worth…and my first didn’t even touch hers!) If you want your baby to eat a Paleo cake, fruit, or a cupcake made with applesauce, great – just don’t overly stress yourself. Many, many babies don’t eat their first birthday cake – offering one is more for fun, tradition, even just photos. We've also seen funny taco, BBQ and watermelon first birthday smash photos that look just as fun if you want to try something unique.
If your baby eats some cake, he will be OK. Remember that all foods fit, and we need to teach our kiddos that it’s not a big deal to have some cake eventually. Focus on the fact that you survived your first year with baby! That calls for some cake (or champagne!) for you!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!