Megan here. My oldest baby turns five tomorrow.
I am stunned and perplexed as to how this happened so quickly. Everyone told me it would, and I literally spent days staring at my child when she was a newborn, begging her not to change and grow quite so fast. I cried every time I put away each size of clothing. I took about a billion pictures (and a lot of videos), and I even made Shutterfly books every four months during her infancy. That's THREE BOOKS BY THE TIME SHE TURNED ONE. Ridiculous. I even kept a private blog detailing every developmental step, every funny word said. I didn't want to forget a thing. In case you can't tell by now, I'm a sentimental sap who adores babies...especially my own babies.
Despite all of my attempts to savor her babyness...she still grew up too fast. Some days I feel like I missed it all and can hardly remember the details of her as a sassy threenager or what she smelled like as a sweet nursling. I love who she is today and the young girl she is becoming, and yet I can't help but wish I could rewind the clock and hold her for the first time again and again.
I bet you can relate, too.
You see, motherhood is transformative. Not only do we watch a little newborn evolve into a walking, talking person with an independent soul, but we also are transformed into new people along with them. When I think of the past five years, I can't help but reminisce on how much having a child has changed me and altered the course of my life permanently.
When I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant with my first baby I was laid off from a job I thought I'd have for a long time. I then got in a car accident on my due date and almost had an emergency C-section because of it, but my sweet girl stayed in for another eight days before making her debut. A sudden job loss and potentially dangerous accident seemed big and overwhelming then, but what really changed was my life after giving birth.
I call my daughters my angels because they saved me in many ways. They made me more kind, more patient, more focused. Feeding Littles wouldn't exist if I never became a mom. I wouldn't know so many wonderful humans - including Judy - if I never began this journey almost 5 years ago. As much as I hope to influence my children, I will always tell them how much they have changed my life for the better.
In celebration of the big "five," Judy and I wanted to share some of the lessons motherhood has taught us. You see, the reason I love Judy so much is that not only is she a brilliant practitioner, she is also a wise mama. Her children are in their twenties (and are amazing humans themselves), so she shares a perspective about life on the other side of childhood. Of course, she's very close with her kids and is still actively involved in their lives, but she has had the benefit of seeing them through middle school, teenage years, and the ups and downs of college life. Perspective is helpful when you're in the thick of mothering young children, and that's why I love that she will share some of her wisdom about motherhood now that she has been doing it for a while.
If you're reading this and you're struggling to get pregnant or create the family you hope to have, please know that you are not alone and that we know this is a sensitive, lonely topic for many. We share these lessons about motherhood for everyone, not just for people who describe themselves as moms, and we pray that you find peace and resolution on your journey.
Judy's kids (a boy and girl) are two years apart and are now in their early twenties. Judy also works with about 30 families a week in their homes doing feeding therapy, so she gets to know many new moms each month.
My girls are 2.5 years apart and already have very unique, strong personalities. I grew up with a sister and am excited to see how their relationship develops and changes as they get older. I am lucky to get to work with many new moms and want to share some lessons that came hard for me, especially about new motherhood. (Judy and I have some similar themes in our words of wisdom!)
We wish you joy in the craziness of motherhood. Thank you for letting us share our thoughts. Don't forget to share yours below or on Instagram or Facebook!
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!
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!