Better bites - make it easier for your baby
You might recognise the situation: Your baby has learned to eat smooth purees, but as soon as you try to provide food with a slightly thicker consistency, everything suddenly becomes much more difficult. Not for all babies, but for many of them. Some even bring up their food. Others behave like hamsters and save the pieces in their cheeks - and then spit them out. But there are things you can do to help!
4 min read
Written by Sara Ask
For a baby who's just beginning their food journey, pieces of food can be an unwelcome surprise. The consistency of smooth puree plus pieces is complicated because the baby needs to be able to examine whether the piece is edible, and learn to handle the piece in their mouth - a task that's completely new to your baby. In other words, both their mouth motor skills and their senses in their mouth are working at full capacity. Imagine if you had a small stone or other unexpected pieces in your mouth! It's no coincidence that we have such developed senses in our mouths.
Moving the vomit reflex backwards
This can take some time for babies to get used to. Some babies also still have the vomit reflex quite far forward in the mouth, which means that the reflex sets in quickly if they feel something is uneven. The vomiting reflex protects the baby from choking, so it's a positive thing. The idea is that it should move further forward in the mouth so it's not triggered too quickly. If you recognise this, you can make it easier for the baby by letting them play with teething rings and other toys that they can explore in their mouth. This will help the vomit reflex move backwards. In many babies, this has already happened from sucking on the breast or baby bottle.
Teeth aren't required
It's easy to think that the baby needs to have at least some teeth to be able to chew pieces of food, but it's not necessary. The pieces you give to a baby should be soft enough for them to be able to press them against the palate with their tongue and 'chew' that way. But 'soft enough' means cooked or oven-baked pieces, or small pieces that are in the baby food jars. Chunks to avoid are, for example, hard, smooth, and round shapes such as whole nuts, grapes, meatballs, and cherry tomatoes. All these foods can be given to your baby, but in a smaller form that won't get stuck in their throats.
There's no rush
If you give your baby-purchased baby food, it's also easy to believe that it's important to change from the 6-month jars to the 8-month jars as the baby gets older. But the label on baby food is just a guide, it's not something that needs to be followed exactly. It's above all the consistency that makes one food different from another - not the nutritional content. This means that you can continue with smooth purees, and wait for your baby to be ready. It's important not to force the baby if the pieces are difficult for them. Food should be pleasurable and not too challenging.
Provide food for picking up instead
Lots of babies find it easier to handle pieces that are almost puree - for example, small pieces of boiled potatoes, baked salmon, banana, broccoli, eggs or whatever you've got at home. An alternative is to continue with smooth purees but also provide food for them to pick up. As your baby learns to grip, they will love exploring. Another alternative is to go straight to Baby–Led Weaning. This involves giving your baby boiled or oven-baked soft food in pieces that the baby can hold in their hands and chew on. Read more about the BLW method here!
Ask for help if you can't solve the problem
The vast majority of babies learn to manage pieces of food if they get enough time to practise. But if you're worried and feel like the food situation is difficult or full of conflict - don't hesitate to seek help. A speech therapist who is an expert on children's eating can make an individual assessment and give you tips about how you can help your child.
Written by Sara Ask
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