We all face feeding challenges with our babies at times, read on for expert advice on how to handle them
With thanks to Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian & Nutritionist
You’re ready to start your baby on solid foods. You’re excited, and not expecting feeding challenges. But introducing solids and getting into a new feeding routine with your baby is often described by parents as a rollercoaster of emotions – after the initial excitement and trepidation of starting out, the ups and the downs of feeding babies and children often ensue! Amongst all the wonderful highs of watching your baby’s progress, so frequently the area that consumes parental worries are feeding challenges: appetite changes, food refusal, teething, rejection of previously accepted foods, comparison with friends’ babies, medical feeding or growth concerns… feeding-associated worries are those I hear often so you are not alone.
To support you through these feeding challenges and hopefully provide some reassurance I’ve summarised some important pointers to put them into perspective.
Learning to eat is skill – it takes practice!
Much like any skill you child has to learn, they don’t do it overnight – in fact developing all the required skills and integrating those for feeding can take 12-18 months, and even after that there is much more experience to be gained. You wouldn’t look twice if your little one learning to walk takes a few steps then falls on their bum, but food refusal during weaning and beyond is so often viewed as a failure (It’s not!).
Supporting your child with their feeding journey takes:
Practice – using regular opportunities for learning about eating. Family mealtimes eating together is one of the best ways to support baby’s opportunity to role model and learn from you – expose, explore and eventually expand their diet.
Patience – this one can be difficult sometimes, but it’s so important to go at your baby’s pace. For compassion with the importance of patience remember back to being a learner driver – think back to how you felt about the drivers who sat patiently behind you vs those who raced past and cut you up.
Positivity – a positive environment and parenting approach to feeding (even if it means a game face on some days – lets be real) is important. If your child sees (by your facial expressions) and feels (by your body language and tone of voice) that you are happy and relaxed around feeding, this can support their acceptance of foods and enjoyment of mealtimes.
Pragmatism – accept there will be good days and bad days with feeding, there will be days when you offer the same food as yesterday or default to a pouch, there will be days when you feel like they eat nothing – there are hurdles along the way and that’s ok! One cold day doesn’t make it winter.
Comparison can be the thief of joy
Repeat after me; “I will not compare my baby’s weaning progress with others”
I so often spend time reassuring and reminding parents that this isn’t a race. Each baby will have a completely different journey, affected by countless factors such as; their individual requirements for growth, previous early feeding experiences, illness, allergies, medical needs, feeding practices, food preferences, family dynamics, culture, social or economic differences.
What are they communicating and how are you responding?
One thing to remember when feeding babies is that they cannot simply tell you what’s going on or how they’re feeling (don’t we wish they could?). So often parents interpret a behaviour in one way – when in fact baby is simply trying to communicate something else. Communication can be one of the greatest feeding challenges you’ll face.
It’s important during weaning to focus on your baby’s cues (which can subtle) and respond to these. Behaviour, body language and expressions are their way of communicating with you, and how their feeding evolves can depend on how you communicate back.
Baby pulls face and squirms when given a food for the first time
Baby: Wow that was a taste I haven’t had before.
Parent: Oh no he doesn’t like it – maybe I shouldn’t offer it again? or, Oh look that’s definitely a new taste, he’ll get used to it with practice.
Baby repeatedly turns head away and pushes away spoon after 1 small mouthful of meal
Baby: I’m not hungry right now.
Parent: Gosh she hasn’t eaten a thing; she’s not had enough and needs to eat more otherwise she’ll be starving! or, Ok maybe she’s not hungry, I can offer another meal or snack in a few hours’ time.
A helpful reminder the following things can be completely during weaning (and beyond)
- Acceptance of a food one day and rejecting it the next
- Refusing food for days during illness, and having a reduced appetite ‘hangover’ for several more days after that
- Changes in poo – colour, frequency, consistency, undigested pieces of food
- Playing with food a lot, but not actually eating it
- Throwing food
- Spitting food back out
- Gagging (see advice on gagging vs choking)
- Innate preference for certain foods and less so for others
About the author
Lucy Upton is an experienced Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist, who is passionate about helping children and their families achieve happiness and health with food and nutrition, no matter what challenges may stand in the way. Her breadth of experience working in both the NHS and private sector, as well as being an advisor in early years public health and a practitioner for a feeding clinic, means that she has unique offering for children and families.
Instagram handle: @childrensdietitian
Join Lucy’s free online Weaning Workshop on Friday 8th May
Disclaimer: The views and advice given in this article are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Weaning Week or any other organisations represented on this platform