Does your child struggle to eat solid foods or purees? If it is a constant battle at every meal, here are 8 easy tips that any parent can use at home.
Our son was born with a genetic disorder that caused him to have macroglossia (enlarged tongue). This posed many issues with feeding that started the first day of his life. We have moved past the feeding tube and are 3 months post tongue reduction surgery. Feeding has always been a struggle for him. The surgery helped tremendously with solving the issue of bottle feeding, but now we are on a new journey of introducing solid foods. So how do you teach a child to eat?
We contacted craniofacial surgeon Dr. Marsh and his team of experts, Renee Diomis, who is the speech pathologist for his patients. We also attended a FeedingMatters.org conference at Phoenix Children's Hospital. We learned about some great tools and tips for helping transition to solid foods that any parent can use at home.
Use the spoon to cheek method
Slide the spoon towards the cheek when spoon feeding instead of placing the spoon on the top of the tongue in the center of the mouth. This forces them to move their tongue side to side which teaches them the first step in chewing. When a baby first is learning how to eat solid food, you will notice that their tongues constantly push the food out of their mouth. This is because most babies are tongue thrusters, front to back motion, which is how the tongue moves in order to bottle or breast feed. Placing the food in the cheek will help them learn how to move the tongue in a side to side motion.
Add crumbled cracker crumbs
The best advice for transitioning to solid foods was introducing graham cracker or cheerio crumbs during meal time. This really helped him overcome the gag reflexes associated with texture. Place the crumbs on the high chair tray for him to play with, and hopefully the crumbs will stick to their sticky fingers and they can bring the crumbs to their mouth on their own. If your little one is like ours, and very wary of putting anything in his mouth, then place the crumbs on their lips and allow their tongue to lick them off. The third step is actually sprinkling the crumbs on their food, with yogurt or fruit puree. Continue to increase the amount of crumbs and eventually work up to larger pieces. Within a month, Jacob finally ate his first whole cheerio without gagging! Ryan and I about jumped out of our seats with joy.
Experiment with the food consistency or thickness
Every baby is different and it took us a few weeks to get the consistency of the food just right. If it was too thin and liquid, the food would just ooze out of his mouth. If the food was too thick, he wasn't able to swallow it. We finally found a happy medium! I made my baby food more liquid, that way I could easily add oatmeal flakes or rice cereal to thicken it up to the perfect consistency.
Messy food theory
A lot of therapists encourage messy food play, where children are allowed to feel and play with food on their high chair tray. This is actually a very healthy and normal sensory process that tells your child's brain about texture and spatial awareness concepts. The Huffington Post even published an article about a study from the University of Iowa that states messy kids may be faster learners. So keep calm and play on!
It is not always about QUANTITY
At a recent feeding conference put on by the non-profit organization Feeding Matters, we are pleased to report that feedings should not solely be based on the volume or amount of food but rather about building a relationship between child and parent, and responding to baby's cues. This was completely different than our experience in the NICU, which was based on feeding him a certain volume, and ended up causing more stress and anxiety for both of us.
“Successful mealtimes are based on trust between the parent and child.” Marsha Dunn-Klein
The old carrot trick!
When Jacob's nurse told us to put a carrot or celery stick in ice cold water and let him chew on it, I thought, there is no way he will put that in his mouth. Well it is now his most favorite teether of all time! It definitely helped him with his gag reflexes too!
Remember snack time
The best time to try something new is at snack time, in between meals. We found this to be the best window of opportunity because he wasn't so hungry that he became frustrated, and he was more willing to try new things. We made it as fun as possible so it was something to look forward to.
The mesh teethers were a great way to introduce flavor and texture. Freeze different slices of fruit for a yummy snack, or make your own puree of a fruit smoothie and freeze in ice cube trays. This worked great when he began teething!
Another great idea was to put food on any type of teether and let them lick it off.
Find a way for your child or baby to communicate when they are all done. Look for cues when they are young, such as turning their head away or closing their mouth. Jacob would start to pull his bib off when he was all done. We also taught him "all done" using sign language (shake open hands in the air) to encourage him to tell us when he is done rather than crying and getting frustrated. Another great suggestion was the All Done Bowl. Designate a bowl that is used for placing food items that they are all done with rather than throwing them on the floor.
If you don't succeed try again
Remember it may not happen over night and the journey may seem tiresome and long. It is okay to use the feeding tube on days that feedings don't go well. If you take nothing more away from this post, then remember this: issues with feeding do not mean you are an unsuccessful parent. Now pat yourself on the back because you are already taking the first step towards success.