Babies learn to feed themselves with solid foods naturally, when the time is right, but it can be useful to know when your baby is likely to be ready and how his skills will develop. This chapter explains what to look for and how you can help your baby to progress at his own pace.
The Right Time for Solids.
how Babies learn to feed themselves with solid foods?. For the first six months of their lives all babies need is breast milk or infant formula, which are full of easily digested nutrients and calories. Their digestive and immune systems aren’t yet ready to cope with anything else.
Milk feedings continue to provide almost all of a baby’s nutrition until he is about one year old, but from around six months he starts to need more nutrients than he can get from milk alone. However, the need is very small at first and grows quite slowly, so there is no reason to rush the introduction of solid foods. Most babies require only very small quantities of solid food until they are between nine months and a year old. They need time to get used to the feel and taste of food, and for their bodies to adjust naturally, before they eat more.
A baby’s gradual need for more nutrients develops at the same pace as his skill at getting food to his mouth and his body’s ability to cope with it. If he is allowed to feed himself from the beginning, he’ll spend the first few months of family meals learning how to handle food (with his hands and his mouth), while his body gradually adapts to a mixed diet. So by the time he actually needs to eat more between about nine months and a year he will be able to feed himself a wide variety of foods, and his eating will become more purposeful. It’s only then that he’ll gradually start to cut down his milk intake.
Is My Baby Ready for solid Food?
The World Health Organization currently recommends that babies be introduced to solid foods at around six months. At the time of this writing, the American Academy of Pediatrics is less clear: It says that most babies are ready to start solids between four and six months, but adds that they should be able to sit up by themselves and grab things to take to their mouth which most babies cannot do before six months. A problem for parents is that many other “signs of readiness” they have been told about, such as waking at night and increased appetite, appear considerably earlier than this. We now know that these are not linked to the need for extra nutrients or the ability to digest other foods they just happen naturally. If a baby needs fuel for growth, then calorie-dense breast milk (or formula) is the answer, not solid foods.
A few babies may be ready for solids a week or two before they reach six months, and it’s not unusual for some babies to lack interest in eating until they are eight months or older. Most babies are truly ready to start exploring solid foods when they can do all of the following:
- Sit up with little or no support.
- Reach out and grab things effectively.
- Take objects to their mouth rapidly and accurately.
- Make gnawing and chewing movements.
These signs usually appear together at around six months rarely much earlier. But the most reliable sign is when your baby grabs food from your plate and takes it to his mouth and starts to chew it.
LEARN: BABY LED WEANING BASICS.
Moving Toward how Babies learn to feed themselves with solid foods.
Learning to eat solid food is a natural part of any healthy baby’s development, just like walking or talking. Skills gradually appear that are related to eating, but, at first, they have nothing to do with hunger. Babies take objects to their mouths because their mouths are extremely sensitive it’s a great way for them to learn about textures, shapes, and sizes.
By around six months, your baby’s coordination will have developed enough for him to get things to his mouth more accurately, but he won’t treat food any differently from his toys. He’ll explore it with his hands and mouth, and he’ll realize that it has a taste but he doesn’t know it’s for eating. He is curious, rather than hungry.
Before long he’ll discover how to gum and gnaw food, and then how to bite a piece off, although he probably won’t be able to keep it in his mouth at first. Chewing comes next, but most of the food will still fall out of his mouth (so although your baby may appear to be eating, he isn’t really). Chewing is an important skill; it softens food and mixes it with saliva, making it easier and safer to swallow, and it begins the process of digestion. It’s important for babies to have the opportunity to practice chewing from around six months to help them learn to do it effectively babies who don’t start chewing until they are older (ten months or so) often have difficulty with lumpy foods later on.
As his chewing skills develop, your baby will start to figure out how to move food to the back of his mouth to swallow it. This natural pattern of development means that babies rarely try to swallow anything before they have chewed it. Gradually, over a few weeks, less and less of what he puts in his mouth will fall out, and more will be swallowed.
The Gag Reflex.
Many babies gag when they are learning to manage solid food in their mouths. It may be that this is a way of helping them to learn to eat safely, by teaching them not to overfill their mouths or to push food too far back before they’ve chewed it. Some babies gag only once or twice, while others continue to do it on and off for several weeks.
When a baby gags, food that isn’t ready to be swallowed is pushed forward in a retching movement to prevent it getting to the back of the throat. In a baby, the gag reflex is very sensitive, so it is activated more easily than in an adult, with the “trigger point” much farther forward in the mouth.
Although gagging can be unsettling to watch, most babies don’t seem to be bothered by it; they usually bring the offending piece of food forward fairly quickly, then either spit it out or chew it and carry on eating quite happily.
To help the gag reflex work for your baby, make sure that he is sitting upright while he is eating (supported if necessary), so that any food that isn’t ready for swallowing falls forward out of his mouth rather than sliding backward toward his throat. It’s also important that no one but your baby puts food into his mouth, so that he can take the time he needs to control each mouthful effectively.
Helping Your Babies to learn how feed themselves with solid foods .
Babies need lots of opportunities to practice their eating skills and a range of foods to learn on. That way they can figure out how to manage different textures and gradually increase the amount they eat by themselves. There is no need for the traditional “stages,” where you start with a few teaspoons of smooth purée and progress, eventually, to lumpy foods three times a day.
However, it is possible to pinpoint a few key eating skills that appear as your baby progresses, and this can be a useful way to make sure you are giving him all the opportunities he needs to learn and to widen his diet. Identify what to look for and roughly how old your baby will be when these skills start to appear.
It’s a good idea to prepare your meals so that they include textures and shapes that your baby hasn’t quite mastered yet, alongside food he can manage fairly easily. Since most meals have a variety of shapes and textures, the easiest way to do this is simply to share all the different elements of your meal with your baby. As long as you include food he can manage, he will be able to try out the rest without getting frustrated. In fact, he will probably surprise you with what he can do, if you give him the opportunity.
In conclusion, Each skill will appear at the time that is right for your baby, so any attempt to teach him or push him is likely to be frustrating for both of you. He will learn to eat with a fork or a spoon eventually, but most babies find that fingers are the most efficient method for quite a while. If you concentrate on giving your baby the opportunity to try out different skills, he’ll enjoy developing them in his own time.