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How to Feed Solid Foods

Angela Oswalt, MSW

When babies begin to eat solid foods, it is recommended that they eat in a high chair. High chairs allow the baby to sit at the caregiver's height to make feeding easier and to allow the baby to interact with other people during a family meal or other dining experience. Safe high chairs should be sturdy and provide a harness device to keep babies sitting safely and securely (see childproofing article for more information). As well, keeping the baby in one place to eat also reduces messes. When parents and caregivers first try to feed solid foods, they will have to teach the baby how to take them. It's important in the first weeks to pick times when the baby isn't overly hungry or distressed so that they have the patience to try out this new skill.

Use small plastic or plastic-coated spoons to feed solid foods. Parents can get the baby interested in taking food from a spoon by playfully opening their own mouths wide so that the baby can mimic them. During this happy playtime, caregivers can use this opportunity to slide in a small spoonful of food. In addition, caregivers can put just a little dab of pureed food on the top of the baby's lips so that when they lick their lips, they'll taste the new food. After a few initial introductions, babies cognitively understand that these new tastes and textures in their mouths are food, and they will further develop their motor skills to take the solid foods. When babies first start taking solid foods, they may still have the tongue-thrusting reflex that causes them to push solid foods out of their mouth, around age 6 months. Caregivers should not scold or try to overcome that reflex, because this could cause the baby to choke and make dining time more stressful for everyone.

If your baby seems uninterested or unable to take solid foods at first, take a break for a week or two and try it again later. Babies will also give their caregivers clues about when they're finished eating during a sitting. They may strongly refuse to open their mouths or turn their head away from the spoon. Some babies are more subtle and may just lose interest in the eating part of the dining experience. If parents are concerned that their infant didn't eat enough in one sitting, they can be prepared to offer baby food again in a few hours if the baby shows signs of hunger.

As babies grow and continue to develop gross and fine motor skills and cognitive abilities, they also mature in their eating habits and abilities. By the time babies reach 7 to 9 months of age, they can begin eating finger foods that they are able to pick up with their thumb and forefinger. At this point, they may also begin drinking water or juice from a cup if it is offered to them. They will continue to eat pureed and mashed foods and to take a bottle at this point; however, they may be able to hold their own bottle.

Also during this stage, babies are still exploring and learning about their environment, so they will reach for anything they can while eating and will try flinging, banging, and smearing foods to learn more about them. Parents and caregivers should make sure that only safe items are within the baby's reach at their high chairs, and they can minimize the mess by using large, washable bibs and high chair drop cloths to catch any spills and smears.

Between 9 and 12 months of age, babies may begin holding their own baby-safe cups and may begin using utensils, though not precisely. In the second year of life, toddlers continue to refine their eating techniques, becoming more refined at using utensils, especially spoons, on their own. As well, because more of their back teeth are emerging, they can begin chewing foods instead of just biting foods off with their front teeth.

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