Understanding fussy eating in your baby can save you a lot of heartache. For some reason, as moms we tend to measure our success as mothers on how well our baby eats. So when your baby – be it newborn or toddler – resists a feed or refuses to eat, you may find yourself feeling like a failure. It creates such anxiety and can lead to bitter feeding wars.
Research has shown that food battles can contribute to emotional problems. So, whatever you do, don’t fight your baby at mealtimes. Easier said than done? It may help you to manage the food refusal if you understand the reason behind it:
Fussy Eating Problem #1: Your baby seems to be refusing solids by pushing the food out of their mouth
Reason: This is not an indication that your baby doesn’t like the flavour of the food. Newborns are born with a reflex that protects them against choking on foods that they are not ready for. The Tongue Thrust Reflex is seen when a little one pushes food out of their mouth with their tongue. This reflex disappears at between 4 and 5 months in most babies, just when they start to be ready for solids.
Remedy: Take a break from solids for a day or two and try again when your baby is well rested. Be sure to offer first foods only once your baby can hold their head up on their own.
Fussy Eating Problem #2: Your busy little one tolerated first foods for a week or two and now is refusing that rice cereal which they seemed to like
Reason: Some babies prefer more variety and flavourful food and get bored of the same thing each day. These babies are often social butterflies, who enjoy stronger flavours more than bland rice cereal.
Remedy: Determine your baby’s sensory personality . If your little one is a Settled baby or Social butterfly, be sure to offer variety in terms of interesting food flavours – blueberries and spinach and spices like cinnamon and all spice. Home prepared food and jarred food brands that actually taste like the food they are, are the best way to go.
Fussy Eating Problem #3: Your baby refuses all but a few food choices and won’t open their mouth for new foods
Reason: Slow to warm up and sensitive babies are wary of anything novel and new and exciting foods prove a challenge to them.
Remedy: If your baby is Slow-to-Warm up or Sensitive, stick to the flavours of food they like and offer one ‘challenge’ food per meal. This item of food can be placed on the plate to encourage discovery. It may take 14 exposures before your little one will eat it, but keep offering something new each meal. Don’t force them to eat it – they may just feel it or throw it on the floor and that is okay.
Fussy Eating Problem #4: Your baby is usually a good eater and out of the blue refuses to open their mouth
Reason: This is usually a sign of another issue, such as illness or teething.
Remedy: Determine if your little one is uncomfortable – check their mouth for an ulcer or new tooth peeping through the gums. If so, offer softer and more palatable foods. Cut them some slack for a few days – they will start eating again soon.
Fussy Eating Problem #5: Your baby gags with every mouthful, especially if the food is lumpy
Reason: If your little one is a sensory sensitive baby or was tube fed for a while or has oral defensiveness, certain textures, flavours and even temperature food may cause them to gag.
Remedy: Your baby may have coped fine with smooth food as a starter food but does not do well with mashed or mushy food. It is best to skip the mashed and mushy food stage and go straight on to baby-led weaning with whole steamed food. This food is more predictable because the food looks how it will feel in the mouth. Do not hide textures in smooth or mashed food. If the gagging is severe, you may want to see an OT to determine if there are serious sensory issues.
Listen to Weaning with Sense with Kath Megaw & Meg Faure – co-authors of the best-selling Weaning Sense book – in a podcast where they sit down to talk about a sense-able approach to weaning your baby onto solids.