In most places, all over the world, babies go from breastfeeding to independently eating at a family table. Babies, when they have the strength to sit up on their own, join the family during meals. Infants can begin eating solid foods when they have from between four to eight teeth, allowing them to break down the food for themselves. In this situation, foods are rarely introduced one at a time, because the baby is usually offered whatever the rest of the family is eating, which is usually what is in season and what is available.
As babies begin to crawl they manage to put everything into their mouths, including fingers, toes, rattles, toys, dust bunnies and even dirty shoes. This oral stage of life is often misinterpreted as a sign of hunger and a need to eat, rather than just a normal stage of development and the natural desire for oral stimulation.
My rule-of-thumb for parents is that infants need to eat solids when they can distinguish the difference between a cracker and a dirty shoe. Most parents are surprised to know that if they were to place a bowl of Cheerios and a dirty shoe in front of a child, yes, the shoe would be the preferred choice!
If a baby is trying to grab at an apple that a parent is eating, most will see this as proof that the child is hungry, however in the majority cases this is not true. The child is just trying to explore the world around him. Again, infants should begin to eat solids only when they have enough teeth, to actually grind the food down into a proper edible form. Another sign that a child is ready to begin eating solid foods is when he can coordinate the task of taking some food onto a spoon and feed himself. It is important to wait for a child to feed himself independently, just as he was able to feed independently from the breast.
Sara Chana is a mother of seven and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, herbalist, and homeopath.