There are now so many approaches to introducing solids to your baby, it’s hard to know which advice to follow. Some parents follow the baby lead weaning approach, some start with pureed food, and others use a combination of the two. But what I’ve noticed over the years is no matter which approach a parent is using, they seem to make the same six mistakes which make meal times so much harder than they need to be.
In this post you’re going to learn what these common feeding mistakes are, and more importantly, what you can do to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Giving up on Solid Food Way Too Quickly
Parents often incorrectly assume that when a baby makes a face, pushes the food out with their tongue, or gags on the food that it means they don’t like that food. But what they don’t realize is that all babies do this when they first start to eat solids.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Babies have a tongue thrust reflex which persists until 4 to 7 months
This reflex is activated whenever their lips or their tongue is touched. When this reflex is triggered, their tongue automatically pushes whatever is in their mouth out.
- Babies have a really strong gag reflex which is located towards the front and middle of their tongue.
This causes them to gag whenever food touches the front or middle of their tongue. Over time their gag reflex will start to move towards the back of their tongue and will gag less.
- Babies make funny faces when they try new foods
This is because the temperature, texture and taste of the food is different to what they are used to.
Rather than noticing any of these and giving up on introducing solids or avoiding giving them particular foods, it’s important to continue while bearing these things in mind.
Mistake #2: Trying to Limit the Mess
It’s totally normal for a baby to make a mess when you start introducing food to them. Meal times are meant to be messy!
Just like adults, babies need to look at the food, smell the food, interact with the food and then touch the food before they will eat it. If you don’t allow and encourage your baby to take each of these steps, it is highly unlike they’ll try new food.
You need to give your little one the opportunity to play and interact with the food, and the reality is that this is a messy process. They’re going to squish it, wipe it on things, put it in their hair, on the floor, and do all sorts of things with it. It’s important to remember that not only is this normal, it’s necessary. Trying to prevent the mess will only make it harder to introduce solids to your baby and get them to eat.
That said, if you really want to limit the mess, rather than trying to prevent your baby from making a mess with food, you may want to invest in a baby paint smock. This way you can still allow them to explore new foods and be messy, but it makes cleaning up afterwards a little easier.
Mistake #3: Starting Solids Too Early
The World Health Organization recommends waiting until your baby is six months of age before starting solids.
But often parents start solids earlier than 6 months because they notice their 4 month old or 5 month old baby has started to wake more often during the night and they assume this is because they are hungry. However this usually isn’t the case.
What has actually happened is their baby’s sleep pattern has matured. They are now waking up between sleep cycles and searching for their sleep aid to help them fall back to sleep. This is often referred to as the ‘4 month sleep regression’.
They are waking due to a natural change in their sleep cycles, not hunger. Because it’s not hunger causing them to wake, starting solids does not address this pattern of night time waking.
If you’ve started introducing solids to your baby before six months of age, try waiting a little longer until they are at least six months old before attempting to introduce solid food again.
Mistake #4: Feeding the Baby Separate to the Family
Humans are social creatures. A lot of what we learn comes from seeing what others do and mimicking those behaviors.
It’s very important that your baby sees you interacting with food, chewing food and swallowing food. By watching you interact with food and eat it, your little one learns the food is safe, and they see what they need to do with the food. For that reason, it’s really important to let your little one eat food while the family is also eating.
Mistake #5: Continuing to Feed Their Baby When They’ve Indicated They Are Satisfied
When your baby indicates they’re satisfied by shaking their head, arching away, losing interest in the food, or keeping their mouth closed, you need to stop giving them food.
If you persist and try to force your baby to eat more food, you risk make them anxious around food. And what most parents don’t realize is that anxiety will actually suppress your baby’s appetite. This is because anxiety triggers stress hormones in the body, which trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. One of the ways these hormones affect the body is by causing a loss of appetite.
Another reason you should avoid continuing to feed your baby after they are full is because it may also cause them to become fearful of food. This can impact their ability to regulate hunger, which may lead to weight problems in the future.
It’s important to remember that as a parent, it’s your role to give your baby food that is safe for them to eat, but it is your baby’s role to decide how much food to eat.
Mistake #6: Using Highchairs That Are Too Big
Unfortunately, the vast majority of high chairs are simply too big for babies. This causes all sorts of problems when trying to introduce solids.
They way to tell if a high chair is too big is to look for the following when you put your baby in it:
- They automatically fall to the side. This posture is a problem when it comes to feeding because it makes it harder to swallow food
- Their hands are up near their shoulders because the tray sits so high on them. This makes it difficult to interact and play with the food, which we know is crucial for your baby when introducing solids
- Their feet are not supported. Your baby should have their feet sitting flat on a foot rest to support them. If they don’t have this it means they have to work extra hard to sit upright, and quickly become uncomfortable and fatigued. This causes them to quickly lose interest in eating
You need to make sure your baby is safe and supported when exploring and eating food. To do that you will need to make adjustments to the high chair. Having an unsuitable high chair setup is one of the most common mistakes I see as an Occupation Therapist when parents are struggling to get their little one to eat. But the good news is, it’s usually quite easy to fix and doesn’t always involve buying a new high chair.
If you want more information on how to make those adjustments, this article is a step-by-step guide on how to give your baby all the support they need when they’re in a high chair, no matter which high chair you have.
If you’re struggling to introduce solids to your baby, I highly recommend going through each of these steps and making sure you’re not making any of these mistakes. Often all it takes is one simple tweak to your feeding routine to completely change they way your little one responds to solids.