Many parents rely on Facebook support groups for information about all things parenting - feeding, behavior, sleep 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. They can also hold onto utensils!
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 they 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. You're probably doing a lot of this already - we just wanted to offer specific techniques Judy recommends to her clients. 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 skills, and challenge her to do a more complicated food as they demonstrates readiness signs. For example, if your baby is trying to pick up smaller pieces of food, try cutting the food smaller the next time you serve it!
If your baby seems frustrated at a meal, make sure the food is in a shape and size they can pick up. It is normal for your baby or toddler gets really messy with foods. Even though they can pick food up and feed themselves, mess is completely expected (and even encouraged) while eating. Even as your child becomes more proficient with utensils, don't be surprised if they revert back to eating with their hands.
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 they will use it for every food. It's a gradual process!