Weaning is an important step in your baby’s development because it not only prepares him to eat what you eat, it also helps him/her develop fine motor skills and coordination. Weaning is a gradual process; it can be natural (baby-led weaning) or planned (mother-led). In this era of working class mothers, planned weaning has become more common than natural weaning.
As with most things that concern the baby, mothers are saddled with the responsibility of determining the appropriate time to introduce finger foods to their babies. Mothers on their second and third missionary journey may have little or no problem with this but the first time mother is unsure and usually has a few concerns. While this article is not a substitute for a pediatric guidance, it will give the first time mother a few pointers that will help both mother and child in their journey through infant development.
The first thing to consider when deciding to wean your baby is his/her developmental readiness. Each baby is unique; some are early starters and others are late starters. Go with what works for your baby; the fact that all the Toms and Jerrys in your neighbourhood are doing this doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is ready for it. Be patient with your baby; the slow and the swift will eventually arrive the same destination. So there is no hurry. However, there are developmental signs that indicate a baby’s readiness for solid food. Those signs are:
The Ability to Chew
Before introducing finger foods to your baby, he should be able to “chew.” The baby must not necessarily have teeth oh! (In fact, it is likely that at this time, the baby is in the process of teething) but he must be able to use his gum to mash food. Thus, the best finger foods are the ones that can dissolve with little or no chewing or the ones that can be gummed before swallowing.
Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex
According to Wikipedia, tongue thrust, also known as reverse swallow or immature swallow, is a human behavioral pattern in which the tongue protrudes through the anterior incisors during swallowing, speech, and while the tongue is at rest. Nearly all infants exhibit this reflex. In fact, the tongue thrust reflex begins at birth and continues until the baby is four to six months. The reflex allows the baby to feed from the breast or bottle but not from a cup or spoon. It also allows the baby to get rid of any unfamiliar thing that enters the mouth quickly and safely. When this reflex subsides, the baby is ready to accept solid foods.
The Pincer Grasp
The pincer grasp refers to the ability to grab and hold objects between the thumb and the fore finger. Achieving the pincer grasp is a gradual process. From just holding the food in his fist, your baby will graduate to putting his food down and then picking it up again. Subsequently, he’ll progress to transporting the fisted food to his mouth. When your baby perfects the pincer grasp, you can expand the menu and the amount of self- feeding that can be practically done.
The Baby’s Sitting Skill
Studies have shown that from the moment food enters our bodies to the moment it exits, it is pushed along by peristalsis, which are wave-like contractions of the muscles that move food through our digestive tract. Researchers therefore believe that when a baby has the core strength to sit up on his own, it is a good indicator that the muscles of his digestive tract are strong.
Again, a baby eating finger foods is more likely to choke; being reclined or supported may only increase this risk. So, if your baby can sit up on his own, if he can support himself in a seated position for a period of time before toppling over, then he is probably ready for finger foods. However, to be on the safe side, have your little one sit upright when eating solid food. Swallowing would be easier this way and he would be less likely to choke. With time, you can move him to a high chair.
Finally introducing finger foods to your baby is usually a fun, messy business. Welcome the mess. Also note that at the initial stage of weaning, you’ll most likely have more food on the table and floor than in your baby’s tummy. Therefore, until your baby learns how to feed himself, finger foods will supplement his diet.
Eat Right Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics