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Oh, the Instagram moments when baby starts on solids! As your baby takes his first bites of purees or soft solids like ripe avocado, it’s a rite of passage to document the expressions, the mess and the triumphs of your little foodie. There will be so many joyful moments in your Instagram feed! That is, unless baby is having trouble learning to eat new foods, appearing to take just a few bites before fussing and demanding the meal to end. That can be overwhelming for a new parent, and those moments do not make happy memories.
You’re not alone. Research has shown that approximately 20-50 percent of typically developing children will have difficulty eating. The culprit might be physiological in nature or perhaps due to immature motor skills. It might be as simple as switching to a different high chair. But how do you know? Here are five reasons your little one may be having trouble eating solid foods — and what to do about it.
Babies must have good head control before being introduced to purees and/or safe solids for self-feeding. As tempting as it is to give him a taste, his little gut and his body need to mature enough to experience new foods. Look for signs of readiness, including head control, the ability to sit upright with minimal support, interest in what you are eating and interest in food in front of his mouth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that baby has doubled his birthweight in size. Baby’s readiness varies, but most often waiting till about 6 months of age while carefully assessing his cues will help you make the decision to start.
Babies learn to manipulate food in their mouth thanks to several different reflexes that influence tongue, lip and even jaw movement. These reflexes being to fade at the approximately the same time that babies develop feeding skills, but if food is introduced too early, the reflexes regulate motor movements, interfering with baby’s attempts to control movement voluntarily. One of the most important reflexes is the suckle reflex (sometimes referred to as a thrusting reflex) that is present at birth. It helps baby move the tongue forward and back as the tongue grooves to channel the liquid during sucking. At about 6 months of age, the reflex should gradually fade because baby has learned to suck on her own, appearing only occasionally until about 12 months of age. At 1 year, baby should develop a mature swallow pattern where the tongue tip elevates just slightly above the front teeth, propelling all sorts of “squishable” foods backward to be swallowed. Learning to squish and smash new foods between the gums (early chewing skills) takes time, and the reflexes act as tutors for the lesson before slowly integrating into the nervous system. You can help with the lessons and learn more about reflexes using these four tips to help baby learn to chew.
Babies need adequate trunk support to keep their head and limbs steady as they learn to move their jaw, lips and tongue for safe swallowing of solid foods. Many high chairs are simply too big for a young baby, and as your child grows, the high chair needs to “grow” along with him. Make sure that the chair provides support around baby’s hips and allows baby to sit upright, not slightly reclined. As baby grows, be sure that his little feet are supported as well, because the feet anchor the entire body, especially the trunk. Learn more about how babies need their feet to eat and 12 surprising tips to help your baby transition to finger foods in this article.
Constipation, teething, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), repetitive and frequent gagging or other common discomforts get in the way of learning to love food. Momentarily, cries for hunger indicate that baby would like to eat. But, once food begins to enter the mouth and the belly, the signals of pain take over. Baby quickly learns that eating hurts. Signs of discomfort may include arching, keeping his mouth closed when food approaches, wailing cries, frantic behavior to get out of the high chair (or attempts to avoid the high chair) and only finding comfort in breast or bottle feeding, typically in short bursts to satisfy hunger frequently throughout the day. Be sure to talk to your child’s physician and express your concerns, describing the symptoms so that specific advice and a treatment plan can help your baby find joy in mealtimes.
In the first year of life, babies have a lot of learning to do and are adept at following their instincts. As shared in this article, babies will have an instinct to listen to their bodies and protect their airway. When babies are having trouble with motor skills or perhaps have a sensory system that is under- or over-sensitive, those difficulties make it challenging to learn to eat and can influence how safe a baby feels around food.
No matter what the reason, if feeding your baby consistently causes you or your child stress, be sure to seek help via a healthcare provider like a pediatrician. Stress that you are stressed. There are a variety of resources available to help you and your child get on the path to adventurous, happy eating. To learn more about early intervention for feeding challenges, be sure to read this article.
About the Author: Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.