Tips for Transitioning Your Child to Solid Foods
by Stacia Paganelli, MA, CCC-SLP
As mothers, we expect that feeding our newborn will be a natural and easy activity. For some parents, feeding their baby can be much more difficult than expected during the newborn, infant, and/or toddler stages. The standard advice that “your child will eat when (s)he’s hungry” is not always true.
Fortunately, there is support available for infants/young children who struggle to eat and parents who are stressed by daily mealtime battles.
Infants and children with a history of gastrointestinal difficulties (reflux, constipation, delayed gastric emptying), food allergies, and/or developmental delays may have difficulty transitioning away from the breast/bottle and progressing to purees and table foods, hitting obstacles anywhere along the way.
Oral motor differences such as low muscle tone in the face (an open mouth at rest or excessive drooling) or oral aversions (such as gagging/vomiting on lumpy baby foods or other textures) can delay the development of feeding skills and result in many negative mealtime behaviors.
Suggestions to promote the development or your baby’s oral motor/sensory skills for feeding starting now:
- Start a “toothbrushing” routine as early as 4 months. Using a wet baby washcloth, finger brush, or your finger, rub all surfaces of your baby’s mouth (gums, cheeks, roof of mouth, tongue) with firm, rhythmic strokes. Sing or talk to your baby while you complete this routine at least once per day. This will provide your baby with positive oral input and improve tolerance of touch inside the mouth.
- Encourage mouthing of safe toys made of various textures: plastic, wood, fabric, etc. This oral play helps prepare a baby for the different textures (s)he will encounter once solid foods are introduce and is a natural process that moves the gag reflex further back on the tongue, allowing for development of more mature feeding skills.
- Expect some gagging or difficulty managing solid foods when they are first introduced. This is very common and is most often a sensory reaction and not an indication of choking. Encourage your baby to keep trying foods, but do not force feed at any time.
- Allow your baby to touch and play with his/her food, whether it is puree or table foods. Many parents these days prefer to keep their children sparkling clean, even during mealtimes, however this can impact the child’s tolerance of sensory input/food textures and cause more difficulties in the future. Let your baby get their hands and face messy!
- Encourage your child to use their lips to clear food from the spoon instead of scraping it off against their upper gums. Place the bowl of the spoon on the tongue (not too far back as this will cause gagging) and allow your baby to actively remove the food on his/her own.
- If your baby continues to struggle with keeping the puree in his/her mouth, try to place food laterally, inside the cheeks or on the side gums, to encourage more movement of the tongue from side to side instead of front to back (in a tongue thrust pattern). This can also help when you introduce dissolvable solids such as Gerber Puffs; place the food inside the child’s cheek to help him/her manage the chewable food. Watch to make sure your child is munching the food and not just sucking on it. Model appropriate mouth movements and encourage your child to "chew, chew, chew!"
- Introduce open cup drinking practice as early as 4 months. Offer sips of breastmilk/formula from a small, open cup to help promote development of oral motor coordination for drinking. As the child gets older, offer water or milk in an open cup, cup with a recessed lid, or straw cup.
If your child is struggling, talk to your pediatrician and consider seeking a feeding evaluation.
Stacia Paganelli, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-language Pathologist at Step by Step Developmental Services in Rochester, NY.
At the Step by Step Feeding Clinic, a speech-language pathologist with experience in the area of feeding will provide your child with an initial assessment as well as follow up consultations as needed. Your therapist will provide suggestions for immediate use at home and will work with your pediatrician and any other specialists involved to create an appropriate therapy program. An occupational therapist and a nutritionist round out our team to ensure that we fully meet your child’s feeding needs. It is our goal to create happier mealtimes at home, for your child, and for you! Call them today if you are interested in setting up an initial appointment.
Physical Therapy ● Occupational Therapy ● Speech-Language Therapy ● Feeding Therapy
3255 Brighton Henrietta Townline Road, Suite 102 Rochester, New York 14623
Phone: 585-427-7610 Fax: 585-427-7410