top reasons why your baby is struggling with solids (and what to do)
Starting solids is a fun and exciting time for parents and babies! Your baby has been eyeing you with an open mouth every time you take a bite in an oh-so-cute way which means they are likely ready. Other signs of readiness include: holding their head and trunk up independently and being able to maneuver food to the back of their mouth. Typically, by six months of age, your baby will be ready to start solids. This is also around this age when babies’ maternal iron stores have depleted, which means they require iron-rich or fortified foods!
The initial phase of eating – between six and 18 months – is often described as the “honeymoon” phase. Besides the messy highchair, babies are usually keen to try new foods and have yet to enter “picky eating” territory. But that’s not to say that starting solids is easy. Babies are complicated little beings! Some days they will gobble down everything you offer, while others they will refuse to even open their mouth! So, what gives? Here are some of the top reasons why your baby might be struggling with solids.
- Too Full or Too Hungry: It may seem impossible, but you need to figure out your baby’s “window” – the sweet zone between not too hungry and not too full that they’re also not interested. Finding the right time to feed your baby is about listening to their hunger cues and timing. Sign’s that your baby may be hungry include gnawing on their hands, drooling and smacking their lips. And if your baby is anything like my babies were, these signs also occur when they’re excited, teething, bored, and so on. This is where timing is important. Your baby will be either breast or formula feeding as well (milk still makes up much of their nutrition), which adds to the challenge of finding that “sweet zone” timeframe. My suggestion is to leave enough time between milk feeds and food feeds so that baby can develop an appetite (at least an hour but two would be ideal), and try to time food feeds with the rest of the family, to provide some structure for baby.
- Too Tired or Fussy: Again, timing is everything! If your baby is just about to head down for their nap, it might not be the best time to offer solid foods. When a baby is tired, they are less likely to explore the food you’ve provided. Think of it this way, when your baby is eating, they are stimulated and practicing a new skill. If they’re tired or fussy, their concentration and motor-skills are compromised, which will lead to more frustration, tears, and food throwing!
- Too Distracting: Get rid of the games, toys, and screens. They’re distracting your baby from eating and learning! Another common distraction, although a sweet one, tends to be older siblings. If your other children have finished their meals and been excused from the table politely remind them to leave the eating area and play quietly elsewhere. Chances are your baby is not focusing on their food because they are being entertained by their much-loved siblings.
- Your Baby Might Be Uncomfortable: Babies can’t talk, so it’s tough to know what’s going on inside of their bodies. If they’re uncomfortable for any reason—teething, tummy ache, growing pains etc.—a lack of eating can be misinterpreted as being “picky”. Teething can often cause lots of discomfort when eating. If your baby has painful gums, chances are they might refuse to chew finger foods. Try offering softer and cooler temperature foods (like yogurt or Baby Gourmet’s unsweetened fruit and veggie pouches or oatmeal or ancient grain cereals) that will soothe sore gums. Another big reason your child might feel uncomfortable, and therefore refuse to eat, is constipation and/or gas. Starting solids will change your child’s bowel movements, no question about it. If your baby is experiencing constipation and tummy pain, chances are they won’t feel like eating. Make sure your child is staying hydrated and is served enough fibre, and seek guidance from a registered dietitian if bowel movements become painful and infrequent.
- Frustration with Finger Foods: Frustration with food offered is something I commonly hear from new parents. We all have concerns as parents about potential choking hazards – this pediatric dietitian mom of three included! The biggest mistake I see from well-meaning parents is cutting their baby’s food too small (into tiny little pieces), in fear of food becoming a choking hazard. They can’t choke if the food is super small right? But if the teeny-tiny pieces of food you’re offering aren’t being consumed, and you’ve got a frustrated baby on your hands, then chances are they’re hungry but unable to physically eat the food offered. Why? Because young children lack the fine motor skills to pick up little pieces of food (the pincer grasp doesn’t develop until around 10-12 months). So, don’t be afraid to offer larger pieces that your baby can grasp. Think strips of lightly buttered toast, avocado slices coated in Baby Gourmet’s infant cereal, homemade meatballs, or Baby Gourmet’s new plant-based Finger Foods versus tiny pieces of food.
- Too Much Pressure: Whether you have a baby or a toddler, applying too much pressure to eat will result in the opposite. Take the pressure off yourself knowing that it’s 100% up to your baby if to eat and decide how much they eat. Although you may be tempted to do the airplane spoon trick, don’t! Instead, sit back and enjoy your meal and the time spent at the dinner table as a family.
BOTTOM LINE? Learning to eat can be hard. Babies need practice (and patience) – as messy as that is – in order to develop the skills they need to be competent and confident eaters