Somewhere around the six- to eight-month mark, your baby is likely to start trying to put everything into her mouth. It's an important developmental stage and helps her explore the different shapes and textures of objects, and it also means that she's ready to start eating finger foods.
What are finger foods?
Finger foods are exactly what they sound like: small pieces of food that your baby can eat with her hands.
When should you introduce finger foods?
Some mums, particularly those who follow the baby-led weaning route, introduce finger foods to their babies as soon as they start weaning at around six months old. But most mums begin by weaning their babies onto purees and then introduce finger foods at a later stage, usually around eight months. Your baby is ready to try finger foods if:
- She can sit up in her highchair and hold her head up
- She can pick up objects and put them in her mouth
- She can make chewing motions with her mouth
Your baby doesn't need teeth to tackle finger foods, as her gums will be hard enough to chomp down on most solid foods, although you may need to wait until her first teeth come through before introducing very hard or chewy foods like meat or raw carrot.
What are the best first finger foods?
Initially, you'll want to give your baby finger foods that are easy to hold and eat, so go for soft and tasty foods that are about the size of the palm of her hand: too small, and she won't be able to pick them up; too big, and they won't fit into her mouth. Good first foods to try include:
- Chunks of soft, ripe fruit like banana, avocado, mango or peach
- Pieces of well-cooked harder fruit like apple or pear
- Steamed vegetable chunks or batons: carrot, sweet potato, pepper
- Cubes of mild cheese
- Pieces of hard-boiled egg
- Well-cooked pasta shapes
- Bread or toast soldiers
- Breadsticks, rice cakes, oat cakes or baby crisp-type snacks
- Rusks or baby biscuits
As your baby gets older - around eight to nine months - she'll develop a pincer grip, which means she'll be able to pick up smaller finger foods, like peas, sweetcorn or raisins, between finger and thumb. She's also likely to have more teeth and be better at chewing by this stage, so you can introduce chewier foods like strips of cooked chicken or raw carrot sticks.
At what times of day should your baby have finger foods?
The choice is yours. Many mums introduce finger foods initially as a snack, and stick with purees at mealtimes. Others, however, offer some finger foods alongside their baby's main meals - for instance, some chopped strawberries with breakfast, or some squares of toast with their lunchtime puree. As your baby gets older and more adept at feeding herself with her hands, you'll be able to offer her an entire finger food meal, such as small pieces of sandwich with some cubes of cheese and cucumber and carrot batons.
What about choking?
It's common for babies to gag when they're getting used to eating finger foods. They may shove the food in too far, or not chew it sufficiently before they swallow. While it can be frightening to see your baby gagging, it's actually a natural reflex that stops them choking, and in 99 per cent of cases, your tot will clear the blockage by herself. It's sensible for all parents to take an infant first-aid course to learn how to react in emergencies such as choking, so ask your health visitor for information about local provisions.
Grapes and raisins are among the most common choking culprits; grapes should always be halved or quartered for your baby, and raisins are best avoided for babies under 12 months old. But most instances of choking can be avoided by providing suitable foods that are soft and easy to chew, checking them for potential hazards like bones, pips and stringy pieces of fat, and by supervising your baby at all times when she's eating.