How to feed a baby who won’t eat: 10 easy tips
Your baby has been eyeing your food with interest for a while now and may have even tried to grab it. But when you finally get the blessing from your doctor to introduce solids and do so, they spit it out immediately. Perhaps you’ve tried several different foods now and gotten the same reaction. What to do?
Don’t stress, says Dr. Sharon Somekh, a New York City pediatrician and founder of Raiseology.com.
“Babies and children will eat when they are hungry,” she notes, saying that although it’s common for some babies to reject foods at first, “the majority of babies do well with introducing solids.”
Still, even with reassurance, parents of finicky eaters need practical help. We’ve got you covered. Here are some expert and mom-approved tips for getting your little one to eat — and enjoy it!
1. Consult a pro
Although babies are often fussy when they start solids, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out for support as you navigate the process. When should you do that and whom should you consult first? “If your baby consistently rejects foods despite multiple and consistent attempts, you can discuss it with your pediatrician,” says Somekh.
2. Rule out more serious issues
Although your doctor is the best one to diagnose a feeding disorder, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a typical fussy eater and a baby who may have a feeding issue. Roseanne Lesack, licensed psychologist and director of the Feeding Disorders Clinic at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, says that indicators of feeding issues include:
Concerns about growth or development
For toddlers and older children, a narrow restriction of foods (age 7 or under)
Pain or discomfort while eating
Any underlying medical issues, such as reflux, constipation, or other gastrointestinal issues
3. Don't start too soon
Somekh recommends waiting until at least four to six months to start solids and that a baby’s primary food for the first eight to nine months should still be breastmilk or formula. Teresa Pitman, a La Leche League Leader from Guelph, Canada, and author of “Baby-Led Weaning: The Not-So-Revolutionary Way to Start Solids and Make a Happy Eater,” cites guidelines from the World Health Organization, which recommends waiting until 6 months old to start solids. However, she says, more important than a particular age is how ready your baby is.
“Every baby is different; one will be eager to try solids at 5 months, and another won't be developmentally ready until 7 months,” Pitman says.
4. Make a mess
“Don’t worry about the mess!” says Lesack. “Babies will begin to wear their food, and that’s OK.”
If you want your baby to get more comfortable with different smells and textures, says Pitman, you’ have to let them explore the food with all their senses.
“The first time your baby is offered a new food, he's likely to smush it, smear it around, rub it in his hair and just check it out with all his senses,” she says. “That's part of the process for a baby.”
5. Know that all babies are different
Chana Maya Ritter, a mom of two from Albany, New York, shares that each of her children had very different experiences when it came to solids. Her daughter didn’t show much interest until she was 15 months old, whereas her son was raring to go at 4 months old. When she was struggling with her daughter, she says her mother, a lactation consultant, offered her the best advice.
“She explained that just like you can’t make a baby walk before he is ready, you can’t make them eat solid food until they are ready,” Ritter says.
As it turned out, her daughter had a dairy sensitivity and is on the autistic spectrum, which may explain her early fussiness. But trusting the process paid off.
“At 14 years old, I can happily verify she eats lots of solid foods and rarely spits frozen peas out of her mouth,” says Ritter.
6. Add color and variety
Babies can get bored with the same go-to staples and are easily wowed by foods that entice their senses. Pitman has some fantastic ideas for how to spruce up your baby’s cuisine:
Go for brightly colored foods. (Ex. blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes)
Offer variety in shape, texture and size.
If your baby likes one particular food but doesn’t want to try anything new, mix together the new food with the food your baby already prefers.
Offer small bites rather than a full plate, as your baby may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of food.
7. Bring on self-feeding
For Caila Smith, a mom of four from Huntington, Indiana, it wasn’t until her twins were ready to self-feed that they actually tolerated solid food.
“At around 9 months old, we looked into baby-led weaning, and that was the answer for our twin babies,” she says. “They valued the independence, and although they didn’t fully get the hang of things until they were roughly 11 months old, they were still growing as they should.”
The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) advises that babies are ready to “self-feed” when they can sit up unassisted and feed themselves. For safety, make sure the foods you offer are “soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces,” explains the AAP.
8. Try, try, try again
When your baby rejects a food, you might feel like giving up.
“If your baby rejects a food, please don’t see this as a sign to avoid offering it,” Somekh says.
Indeed, explains Lesack, it can take up to 10 to 15 tries to become accustomed to a new food.
“That means broccoli may be thrown on the floor every single day for two weeks straight,” she says. “Not liking some foods is absolutely normal, but continue to present a variety of flavors, even if your child doesn’t seem to ‘like’ that flavor initially.”
9. Eat together
You don’t necessarily have to feed your baby separately. Including your baby in family mealtimes makes them more excited about eating.
“I think what makes eating fun for a baby is making it social,” says Pitman. “If the baby is sitting on your lap or beside you at the dinner table, watching his family talking and eating, he's getting the sense that mealtimes are fun, social times and that people enjoy their food.”
10. Try not to worry
Ritter’s best advice for stressed parents of fussy eaters? Don’t worry so much.
“We are constantly consumed with the worry that we may cause irreparable harm to this precious being we would give our lives for,” she says.
Try your best to be present in the moment, she says, and enjoy the fun, messy, parts of feeding, even if things don’t go perfectly.
“The truth is, babies eat solid foods when they are ready,” says Ritter. “You literally can’t stop them, as my son proved the day he grabbed a French fry and a cookie out of my hand and stuffed them into his little 4-month-old mouth.”
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