Whether you start with baby led weaning or purees, baby will eventually eat real solid food at some point! This can be scary for some parents. Fear of choking is a valid fear!
To eat real solids, baby has to take a bite, move it to the side of their mouth to chew, move it back to the center of their tongue, and send it backward to swallow. This is a complex process!
Baby led weaning is an approach to feeding that involves feeding baby real solid food from the beginning rather starting only with purees. While I do love the benefits of baby led weaning, it is not right for everyone. You know your baby best and if you want to start with purees, go for it! Just don’t get stuck on purees for too long. After a couple of months, moving on to real solids is recommended for most babies.
If babies get too used to a smooth pureed texture, they are more at risk for developing picky eating habits down the road. A variety of sensory experiences within the mouth is important for developing an openness to different tastes and textures.
To learn more about getting started with Baby Led Weaning check out our other article.
Activities to Develop Chewing Skills
Using Teethers to Practice Chewing
When baby is 2-3 months of age, I recommend introduce teething toys. Teething toys have benefits other than soothing sore gums! Teethers that have a long, stick like shape or have parts that stick out are ideal. This is because they can go further back in the mouth than the typical circular teether you are probably more familiar with. This shape can reach to the side of baby’s mouth where they can practice chewing.
Teething toys can help to encourage different types of movement of the tongue and eventually baby will start chewing on it. This is a great way to practice chewing safely. Providing teethers that have different textures (like this one) can help prepare baby’s mouth for all the different textures of food they will soon experience!
These teething toys can also help to desensitize the gag reflex. Check out our article The Benefits of Teethers Beyond Teething for more info.
Baby Feeders to Practice Chewing
Baby feeders allow you to put solid food inside so baby can practice chewing actual food without the fear of choking. They kind of look like a large pacifier you put food inside of.
You can place hard foods inside that would not normally be safe for baby (such as a slice of fresh apple), which is excellent chewing practice. A harder stimulus encourages stronger chewing.
Baby feeders can also be great for teething. You can put frozen fruit inside for baby to gnaw on to soothe their gums.
Make sure you pick a baby feeder that is small and able to actually reach baby’s molars (or where future molars will be!). This insures proper chewing practice. This one from NatureBond comes with 3 different sizes. Use the smallest size for best results!
Learning to Chew Food
Usually bigger is better when it comes to offering solids to babies (at least in the early months!). Most babies will do best with food large enough to hold in their hand. They then will bring it to their mouth to take a bite.
The Best First Solid Foods for Babies
The first foods you offer baby should be soft. Banana, avocado, and sweet potato are all great examples. Cut foods into a stick like shape. A good guide on size is the length and width of 1 or 2 of your own fingers.
You can coat slippery foods with baby cereal, ground flax, or hemp seeds. Or you can try using a crinkle cut knife. The ridges it creates makes food easier for baby to pick up.
Solid Starts has an excellent database of first foods. It tells you how to prepare almost any food you can think of appropriately for baby according to their age and skill level. Their app is so convenient to use when on the go. You can easily pull it up at the grocery store to look up any food in question.
Make sure you do your research on foods that are choking hazards. Certain foods aren’t safe for babies but most can be modified for baby to eat safely. Some examples of foods that are not safe for babies are whole grapes, whole beans, raw and hard veggies or fruits, hot dogs, nuts, and popcorn.
For more information, the CDC has a good guide to choking hazards on their website.
Using Dissolvable Solids to Practice Chewing
Dissolvable solids are some of my favorite foods to use for teaching chewing. This is because they soften and begin to dissolve vey quickly, which makes them a safe food to offer early on.
Dissolvable solids vary in texture so make sure you try a couple before deciding if it’s right for your baby!
Many parents like dissolvable puffs, which can be offered around 8 months of age when baby starts to develop a pincer grasp (using 2 fingers to pinch food and pick it up).
My favorite dissolvable solid is freeze dried fruit! Freeze dried fruit offers a lot more flavor than puffs. All of the options I have seen also only have a single ingredient and no sugar, additives, or preservatives!
Freeze dried mango is only mango for example. And it actually tastes like mango!
Single ingredient options are great if you are concerned about allergic reactions or food sensitivities. If your baby does have a reaction, you will know exactly what ingredient they are sensitive to!
You can find freeze dried fruit all over these days–Walmart, Target, most grocery stores. Even Amazon has many options, like this 12 pack.
In addition to avoiding foods that can be choking hazards, there are other things you can do to create a safe eating experience.
Make sure baby has a supportive seat or high chair to sit in while eating. It is not safe to let baby roll and crawl around while eating. Upper chest straps are helpful to provide a secure upright posture when baby is learning. The high chair should support good positioning with hips and knees both at 90 degrees. Having a foot rest that baby’s feet rest flat on is also important for ideal positioning.
The Abiie Beyond high chair offers an adjustable foot plate, can grow with your child, and even be used for adults!
If you are using a bib, make sure you put the bib under the straps of the high chair. I know it is convenient to put the bib over everything to minimize the mess, but doing this can cause a delay with removing your child from the chair in an emergency.
I think every parent should take a CPR class for infants and children. Doing this will help you feel more confident that you will be able to help your child in the case that something does go wrong. The Red Cross offers CPR classes both online and in person.
I recommend creating a cheat sheet after you take the class for what to do during an emergency and post it near where your child eats. It’s normal to panic in the moment and having a quick guide close by will help ensure you will be able to remember what to do!
I know that offering real solid foods can be scary at first! I hope this guide helps you to feel more prepared and confident when the time is right to start solids!
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