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!
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!