What most parents don't know about introducing purees to their baby
Introducing purees to your baby seems like a simple process, but did you know that successfully eating purees allows your child to develop the oral motor skills to move on to more textured foods?
How to introduce purees and facilitate proper oral motor development:
Positioning- Your baby should be able to hold their head up without assistance. During mealtime place your baby in a high chair, if your baby is unable to sit without assistance make sure to place towels on the sides and in-between legs to make baby feel supported and secure. A baby should be sitting with their feet firmly planted on a hard surface, back upright and their knees at a 90 degree angle. Many highchairs make foot rests that do not reach a child's feet this can tire a child out and can cause a baby to become fussy during a meal. Parents may assume the child does not want to eat when in reality it can be that they are improperly positioned. Try sitting on a bar stool without a foot rest, it becomes uncomfortable after awhile. For highchairs that do not have a proper foot rest, you can easily tape cereal boxes to the foot rest to bring it up higher so baby can rest their feet. Also make sure you are seated at eye level or below your child, you don't want to sit above your child because this causes your child to tilt their head back and places their airway in an unprotected position which can put your baby at an increased risk of choking.
Play- let your baby play with toddler utensils even before you place food on the spoon to get them accustomed to this new item you will place in their mouth.
Spoons- the best spoons are small enough to fit easily in your baby's mouth and the bowl of the spoon should be shallow so your baby can easily remove the food from the spoon. To get an idea of an appropriate spoon look at First Years Take and Toss spoons, they are small and have a nice shallow bowl. Another great spoon is the Maroon spoon. You don't need to use these spoons, just take a look at their design to get an idea of which type of spoons to buy.
Model- babies learn through imitation. Allow your baby to watch you eating with a spoon. It's best to try eating most meals at the same time as your child to give them multiple opportunities to observe you eating.
Technique- place a small amount of food on the spoon and place it just inside of your child's mouth, then let their lips and gums remove the food. Many well meaning parents scrap the food against the roof of the baby's mouth to help their child remove the food, but this doesn't allow the baby to practice using their lips and jaw to remove the food. Beginning to eat food is a fun experience but it is also exercising your baby's mouth and allowing them to develop more mature movements with their tongue, jaw, lips and cheeks. Oral skills build on top of each other so if a baby is unable to master a skill at this level they may have difficulty down the road when more textured foods are introduced.
Is this normal?
Gagging- you will usually see some gagging when new textures are introduced. This is a normal response, as your baby gets more experience with this new texture the gagging will stop. A gag at this stage is not indicative of a baby's dislike of a flavor or texture, it simply means a baby has not had sensory experiences with this texture before. A gag should only be observed for a short period of time, if a gag is noted for longer it can be an indication of something not right developmentally in the mouth and warrants an assessment by a feeding therapist.
Food falling out of mouth-You will also notice that your baby pushes food out of their mouth with their tongue. This is also normal and does not mean that your baby does not like the new food. Your baby has been using a suckle to get milk from breast/bottle and their tongue has not yet developed the more complex movements needed for solid foods. As your baby gets more experience eating purees you will see this tongue protrusion diminish.
Messy eaters- You will also notice a lot of food loss when you first begin introducing purees, again this is a normal part of the process. Once your baby's cheeks and lips become more active and the tongue and jaw become more coordinated (all skills that develop as your baby learns to eat food) you will see less food loss. When you do see food loss resist the temptation to immediately wipe it off, let your baby get used to having different sensory experiences on their face and encourage them to use their lips/tongue to remove the food.
Katie is the owner of Katie Carney Speech Therapy, LLC, where she provides play based and family centered speech and feeding therapy on the south side of Chicago. Katie has a passion for proper oral motor, feeding, and speech development. To contact Katie visit her website at katiecarneyspeech.com, call her at 773-914-2194, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.