Nancy Ripton and Melanie Potock, authors of ‘Baby Self-Feeding’, encourage you to make your own informed decision on whether or not to feed your baby purees. Like finger foods, purees play an important role in mouth development and learning to accept different food tastes and textures. In their view, purees should be a part of your child’s early food experience and beyond, in conjunction with safe finger or handheld foods. Young children can handle different tastes, textures, and feeding experiences. Sampling a variety of foods now leads to a child who is a more adventurous eater later in life.
The Role of Early Spoon-Feeding
Spoon-feeding your baby purees plays a specific, useful role. Babies develop better lip control and movement as they suck a puree off a spoon. It also limits the amount of food your baby will spit out and gets more food into your baby’s tummy. However, most parents place the spoon in their child’s mouth and then scrape the food off on the top of their baby’s lip as they remove the spoon. Instead, you can teach your baby to suck the food off the spoon.
PROPER SPOON-FEEDING TECHNIQUES
Teaching your baby to suck food off a spoon the correct way helps to position her tongue in the proper place in order to push food toward her throat.
- Get down on eye level with your baby. Do not feed your baby while you are standing above her. When a baby has to look up at you, it makes it more difficult for her to swallow comfortably. Plus, you’ll tend to lift the spoon upward.
- Start with the tip of the spoon dipped in the puree. Think of first tastes as just that””a taste. Gradually work up to a spoonful.
- Bring the spoon toward your baby’s mouth, waiting for him to open and accept the spoon. Reading your baby’s cues is essential. You are building a nurturing relationship where the shared experience of feeding is the foundation. Resist the urge to scrape the food off on your baby’s upper lip or the roof of his mouth. Allow him to close his top lip and suck the puree off the spoon while you guide the spoon straight out of his mouth in tandem. Keeping the spoon parallel to the floor helps your baby develop the proper tongue position for the next phase, swallowing.
- Allow time for your baby to propel the puree backward and swallow. This typically takes a second or two, but at first you’ll notice baby pushing the food back out and then swallowing. With time, this suckle reflex (a forward/backward motion) will begin to fade and she will eventually swallow more food than she pushes out.
- Repeat. Remember to read your baby’s cues, smile, and talk to him. Eating is a social experience. You’ll know your baby is eager to participate if he:
- Opens his mouth as the spoon approaches.
- Leans forward slightly to accept the spoon.
- Has a pleasant expression on his face.
- Gazes at you while you are feeding.
- Grabs at the spoon to bring it to his mouth on his own or with your help.
- If baby closes her mouth, becomes fussy, or is otherwise resistant to eating, don’t force it. Put the food away and feed with breast milk or formula. Then try puree again in another day or two. Watch for signs that your baby is not ready to be fed:
- Turns away from the spoon
- Closes mouth when spoon approaches
- Gazes away from the spoon
- Blocks spoon with hands or covers mouth with hands
The Benefits of Starting with Purees
- Reduces gagging and discomfort for baby.
- Increases chance of having a positive first experience with food.
- Helps teach your baby proper swallowing technique.
- Introduces your child to the texture of pureed food
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SPOON
A spoon is simply a tool to present purees. Many parents in countries around the world use their finger, a piece of solid food dipped in puree, or even baby’s own hands as the first tool for presenting “suckable” foods. For the purposes of this book, we suggest a spoon, with the understanding that it’s the act of sucking the puree that is most important.
Parents often feed babies with adult-size spoons or toddler spoons, when in fact the first spoon should be very flat with a small “spoon-bowl.” Babies have small mouths and need small spoons for comfort and for learning how to suck food off a spoon. Choose a spoon that has a flat, narrow bowl just big enough to fit over your baby’s tongue, but not cover the edges of the tongue. Your child needs to be able to lift the sides (lateral margins) of her tongue upward just slightly as the spoon rests on her tongue, then close her top lip and clean the food off the spoon as you draw it out of her mouth. Learning to use the lateral margins of the tongue and the lips (especially the top lip) helps a child develop a mature swallow pattern for chewing and swallowing more advanced textures with ease.
The Transition to Self-Spoon-Feeding
The secret to getting the most out of self-feeding is to know when to move on from exclusive purees. Most babies can start to self-feed by seven months. Although you can continue to offer purees occasionally, they should no longer make up a large part of your baby’s diet after seven or eight months of age. A baby who gets too used to a certain way of eating can become reluctant to try new tastes and textures. He will also miss out on the learning experience of feeding himself at a young age. Once your baby can competently swallow purees, it’s time to introduce self-spoon-feeding and finger foods. Babies will begin dipping with a spoon around nine months of age. The next step is scooping, which may emerge a few months later. Parents can keep offering spoonfuls of purees and mashed foods to their babies until about 12 months of age. Offering a spoon occasionally during this time period exposes children to a variety of tastes and textures while they learn to manage the dipping, and later scooping, stages on their own. Mastering messy, self-spoon-feeding may not happen until about 15 to 18 months.
Edited extract from Baby Self-Feeding: Solid Food Solutions to Create Lifelong, Healthy Eating Habits by Melanie Potock and Nancy Ripton, published by Fair Winds Press (£16.99), is out now.