When Babies Can Eat Finger Food

Baby eating finger foods

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I often field questions like these from parents who started feeding their babies with purees and are cautious about starting finger foods for baby:

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

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 more precise timing). In fact, a growing number of parents are using baby-led weaning or a combination or this and purees when feeding their kids.

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 into small enough pieces and is soft enough for his gums to mash.

When Is Your 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 pick up small pieces of food until this grasp has developed.
  • 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. A good test is to gently press the food between your thumb and forefinger. If it smooshes easily between your fingers, it's likely soft enough.
  • Before you begin finger foods, talk to your doctor about his or her thoughts first.
  • Never feed your baby while they're sitting on your lap. You won't be able to see if they're choking.

Helping Baby Learn to Feed 

Once your baby can sit up and bring their hands or other objects to their mouth, you can give them finger foods to help them learn to feed themself. If you're still giving your baby purees, remember that you can hand them a pre-loaded spoon (or a spoon with a little bit of puree on it), so that they can still learn to feed more autonomously.

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 with large amounts of salt.

Which Foods Should Not Be Given to a 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 (including string cheese)
  • No whole grapes
  • No popcorn
  • No thick nut or seed butters (you can thin these butters with water to use as a sauce)
  • No raw vegetables
  • No fruit chunks, such as apple chunks
  • No hard, gooey, or sticky candy
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