I have had some questions recently from people whose little ones are having a hard time transitioning to solid food, so I decided to write more tips on what helped me as I encouraged our son to learn how to eat.
This post will expand upon my experience with feeding occupational therapy which I talked about in How I Got My Tot to Eat a Lot.
Please note: I am not a doctor and I do not pretend to be one. The information provided here is based on my own personal experience and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illnesses or conditions. If your child is having a difficult time learning how to eat, then your little one needs to be under the close supervision of a pediatrician or a gastroenterologist. Not only can the inability to tolerate solid food be a sign of a more serious condition, but it can also lead to inadequate weight gain, failure to thrive, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies. If you suspect that your child may require some extra help learning to eat, ask your doctor for a referral to a gastroenterologist, a dietician, and an occupational therapist.
These are the notes that I made throughout our months of feeding occupational therapy. At the time, I referred to them almost every day. Although my Little Bear now enjoys eating almost everything, I still read my notes once in a while because the information and suggestions continue to be very relevant and helpful.
Keep a Routine
- Set a routine for meals and snacks, and always eat at approximately the same time every day.
- Stick to the routine, even if your little one does not eat. This will encourage hunger.
- If your child is not cooperating with eating, calmly thank your little one for coming to the table and remove the plate.
- Limit mealtime to 10-20 minutes.
- If you offer 3 meals and 3 snacks throughout the day, your child will have 6 learning opportunities every day.
- Don’t constantly try to feed your kid or he/she will get annoyed. Little tummies need to feel hungry and they need time to digest. Allow at least 2 hours between every meal and snack.
- Serve pieces of ripe pear, watermelon, pieces of cooked squash, avocado, canned fruit, or banana. Cut all food to the size of your baby finger.
- Avoid grapes, hotdogs, and blueberries, and other potential choking hazards.
- Keep textures separate; serve purees separately from solids. Imagine how you would feel if you were eating a pureed soup, and one bite had a piece of squid in it. You would spit it out too!
The Hypersensitive Gag Reflex
- The only way to get over gagging is to gag a lot.
- Gagging is part of learning to work the muscles of the mouth. If your little one gets a little piece of food stuck under the tongue or on the roof of the mouth and can’t get it off, he/she will automatically gag.
- Let baby feed itself. Babies are not afraid of gagging themselves. It is easier if they make themselves gag, than if you make them gag.
- Give new foods at the beginning of the meal – if your child gags or vomits, you won’t lose all of the calories that have already been eaten.
- When he/she does gag, choke, or vomit, calmly tell him/her, “It is okay.” “It is going down.” “You did it!” “Good coughing!”
- Babies need to explore their environment and they use every sensory system to examine their food. Fingering the food is part of learning.
- Give your child a spoon right away. Use a small spoon, just their size. Since they do not know which end of the spoon to use to eat, just dip both ends of it in the puree and let them practice putting the spoon into their mouth.
- Use two spoons; one for Baby and one for you. Feed them at the same time that they are feeding themselves.
- Let them learn to use a cup right away. The only purpose of a sippy cup is to keep the house clean. They need to learn how to use an open cup to acquire motor skills. Use a short cup, such as a little Tupperware container, a shot glass, or a medicine cup.
- Keep calm and relaxed throughout the meal.
- Avoid expressions of frustration, even if they do not eat. The look on your face reinforces what they are doing – they are getting attention.
- Use descriptive praise since that is what toddlers understand, “You are holding your spoon.” “I like when you sit in your chair.” “You have a piece of mango.”
- Act as if your child’s negative behavior is of no interest to you and continue with your meal or conversation. For instance, if they drop food on the floor, leave it there.
- When working over a period of time, it can be helpful to have both long term goals (such as a balanced diet, and weight gain), and short term goals (such as making mealtime a pleasant experience).
It is also important to remember that there is no quick cure. When we started our feeding occupational therapy, we were told that in six months everything might start to fall into place. I couldn’t believe how accurate that prediction was when, six months later, our OT said that we were doing well, and she discharged us from therapy.
Eventually your little one will be able to eat. He/she will gradually learn to enjoy their food. When that happens, you will be so overjoyed and proud in a way that no one else could possibly understand, except for someone who has been through what you are experiencing.