An introduction to Sensory Weaning

In time for Weaning Week 2019, weaning brand Tidy Tot and award-winning children’s nutritionist and weaning expert, Sarah Almond Bushell, have worked together to develop a new approach to weaning which involves engaging all baby’s senses to develop happy and confident little eaters – Sensory Weaning. 

I have the pleasure of doing a job I love! I’m a registered dietitian and work with mums (and the occasional dad) with my digital courses, supporting them through their baby’s weaning journey. My experience with fussy eaters led me to train as an SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) feeding therapist. Starting solids is such as important milestone and nutrition is crucial as there are certain nutrients that babies need by 6 months that breast milk and formula alone can’t provide, therefore the food you choose to give your baby is really important.

But it’s so much more than nutrition.

Eating is a skill that babies aren’t born with and they have to learn how to eat during the 6- 12 month stage. A lot of the learning involves using their senses. The more sensory experiences your baby has, the more his brain develops. Giving your little one lots of different experiences with food means that he is stimulating his brain development, leading to new skills and behaviours. This is why I have worked with Tidy Tot to define this new term of Sensory Weaning and developed a useful guide for parents on how they can stimulate their baby’s senses throughout their weaning journey.

I see a lot of toddlers in my clinic who have sensory issues with food and their parents have come to see me because they are at their wits end with their fussy eating and food refusal.

In many cases, the problems start because of the limited sensory exposure their babies had to food when they were weaning. This has become more apparent since baby food pouches came about. Feeding directly from a pouch means that:

  • Babies are not getting exposed to different textures.  If you buy the same baby food pouch 12 months apart the texture will be exactly the same. When you cook food for your baby at home, the texture between one batch and the next will vary depending on how long you cooked it for and how many seconds you blended it for. A 10 second whizz will produce a different texture to a 20 second whizz.
  • Babies are not getting exposed to how food looks, thus they’re not getting the opportunity to use their visual sense.
  • Aroma and smell is masked in a pouch as the only opening is the lid, thus babies don’t get to use their sense of smell.
  • Even how food tastes is different when eaten from a pouch as flavour perception is a combination of the sense of taste and smell together.
  • Touch is avoided. There is no opportunity for little hands to be dipped into bowls of food when the pouch is being delivered directly into the baby’s mouth.
  • Feeding in pushchairs while out and about means that babies may not have a stable base, affecting their vestibular and proprioceptive senses.

Babies learn a lot from mimicking and so parental interaction and eating together as a family is important, as without this babies don’t get to watch and copy their parents.

Parents often place a lot of emphasis on how to wean their baby, but the truth is, how you choose to wean your baby isn’t important. Both baby led weaning and traditional weaning offer plenty of sensory experiences and the most important thing is to is let your baby immerse themselves 100% in the food that’s on offer.

Your role as mum is to decide on what your baby is going to eat, determine the when and where of the mealtime, and then take a step back. Your baby’s role is to decide if, and in what order, to eat. This is called the Division of Responsibility in feeding and the key here is to let your baby be in charge of what he chooses to pick up, play with, throw on the floor or put into his mouth.

You can still practice the Division of Responsibility when spoon feeding – just follow your baby’s cues. If his mouth is open, he is willing to accept the food. If it’s clamped shut or he turns his head away, take that as a no. He’ll open his mouth again if, or when, s/he’s ready. Either way, let them get their hands in, have their own spoon and it’s ok if they decide to rub it into their hair! It’s all part of the sensory experience and ultimately learning how to eat.

My top tips for sensory weaning:

  • Offer a wide variety of different textures for your little one to explore.
  • Let them get involved with the food, exploring with their hands.
  • Invest in a decent high chair that supports your baby’s waist, knees and feet. They should all be at a 90 degree angle and little legs shouldn’t be left dangling.
  • Put away the wipes, at clean up time bring over a bowl of warm soapy water or sit them on the side of the kitchen sink and let your baby play in the water.
  • Talk about the food, the colour, the noise it makes, tell them what they’re experiencing such as “the pasta is hot” or “your yoghurt is cold”, when they indicate they want a drink say “you’re thirsty”, if they indicate they want more say “still hungry” and when they finish tell them they’re full.

There’s no doubt that weaning is a messy business and it needs to be otherwise your baby isn’t getting the full sensory experience they need in order to learn about food and eating. This is why I like the Tidy Tot Bib and Tray kit. It’s a machine washable, long-sleeved bib that attaches with velcro to a collapsible wipe-clean tray. This means that your little one’s clothes, highchair and floor remain pristine! If only they made something for the walls and ceiling!!

You can find out more about Sensory Weaning and Tidy Tot’s Sensory Weaning Guide here. For Weaning Week 2019, Tidy Tot will be running a special promotion on certain lines.

Sarah runs a digital course called Baby Nutrition, Weaning and Getting Feeding Right which guides parents through the the 6-12 month stage and covers not only nutrition and how to wean your baby, but also encourages the development of the senses and prevents fussy eating. You can find out more about Sarah and her courses here.

 

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