When do babies start chewing food
How to Teach Your Baby to Chew
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Teaching your baby to chew food can seem like an impossible task, especially if you're doing it for the first time. As a first-time parent, you need to make sure that your baby doesn't turn their mouth away when they see you moving in their direction with a spoon.
Next, you also need to make sure that any food that goes in doesn't immediately go out because your baby has decided to spit it out. It's also essential to ensure that your baby chews all the baby food or finger food properly and doesn't swallow it right away.
As you can imagine, all this process can be quite frustrating for parents, so we put together a comprehensive guide that will help you teach your baby to chew quickly and easily.When is my baby ready to start chewing?
Most of the time, babies are ready to learn how to chew and swallow food around six months of age. Usually for the first few months, a baby should be breast or bottle fed exclusively.
The transition from a liquid diet to a solid one is not always a smooth one. Not all babies are ready to learn how to chew and swallow at the same age, some pick it up quickly, whereas it takes others longer to adapt to eating solids.
As such, the first thing to do is to make sure that your baby is ready to chew. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should not attempt to teach your baby to chew before they are six months and are showing signs of readiness. Even if babies are trying to reach for food before that age, it doesn't mean that they are actually ready for solids.
The good news is that there are some signs you can look out for in order to make sure that your baby is ready to embark on the journey of eating solid foods.
Some of the signs to look for include:
- Baby can sit up independently or with minimal support
- Baby can hold their head up
- Baby has doubled their birth weight
- Baby is no longer using their tongue to push food out
It's always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician before transitioning your baby to solids. Don't forget that some babies are more interested in eating than others, so there's no need to rush the process.What are the main things to consider when teaching a baby to chew?
It's important to remember that teaching your baby how to chew is not an overnight process. This is because chewing is a progressive skill, which means that the baby needs to develop other skills first in order to master it.
Here are some factors that could affect a baby's ability to chew:1. Age
Babies develop the ability to chew and swallow solid food after the age of six months. This means that they can't develop the ability to chew before being able to swallow solids. Moreover, their digestive system may not yet be ready for solid food even if the baby is sitting up at four months.2. Extrusion reflex
The extrusion reflex is something all babies are born with. It causes them to push any solid objects forward to the front of their mouth with their tongue. This reflex typically takes 4 to 6 months to disappear, but it may also take longer for some babies.
If you notice that your baby still pushes forward with their tongue even if they are six months old, this is a clear sign that they aren't ready to swallow. All you can do is wait for another couple of weeks and then try again.3. Gag reflex
This reflex is similar to the extrusion one, but it's designed to protect the baby from choking on solids. The baby will expel food or any other foreign object to the front of their mouth whenever a piece of solid food gets close to the back of their tongue. Just like the extrusion reflex, the gag reflex fades away after six months.4. Lots of practice
Even though it may look like a very simple process to an adult, chewing is actually a lot of work. The baby needs to learn how to move the food around to break it down and how to use their tongue from side to side before swallowing.
In order for the baby to master the skill of chewing, they need time to practice the initial movements.5. Teething
Even though teething is essential for chewing because that's the only way to break down and find food into smaller pieces, babies should be acquainted with the basics of chewing by the time they develop teeth.
To do that, babies can chew pureed food and soft food even if they don't yet have teeth. The lower and upper first molar teeth are essential for chewing most types of food, and those emerged by the time your baby is 18 months old. However, by that time, the baby should learn the basic tooling movements and perfect them once their teeth erupt.Tips for helping your baby learn how to chew and swallow food
Parents can choose from various approaches when it comes to introducing solids. Still, one thing that most pediatricians agree on is that the baby should be offered a variety of textures and tastes.
Texture is one of the most important things to think about when it comes to teaching your baby how to chew. For most babies, new textures can be confusing, but fortunately, there are multiple ways to help them make the transition to solid foods.Teething Toys
Most parents think about the teething toys only in relation to sore gums, but these toys are actually great for helping babies adjust to the smooth and rough textures they may eventually find in food.
By chewing on toys, babies can also develop their tongue and jaw muscles, which are all essential for learning how to move food around, as the variety in their diets expands These toys are specifically designed to increase tactile and sensory stimulation, and they are great for introducing babies to lumpy food.
Babies can safely put teething toys in their mouths as early as three or four months. It's always a good idea to offer them regularly before introducing solid foods so the baby can practice and build strength in preparation for the real thing. Moreover, it is important to continue offering babies teethers alongside real food so they can keep building their strength.
If you notice that your baby is struggling to chew when you try to introduce solid food into their diet, you should make sure you are allowing them to work with teethers regularly.Serve foods with different flavors and textures
Offering your baby foods of different flavors and textures is a great way to spark their interest and make the transition from breast milk to solids easier. Whether it's rice cereal, soft fruits, or a vegetable puree, offering babies foods with a smooth texture is a perfect way to make the transition to more solid food.
The next step in the baby's transition to solid foods should consists of mashed food such as a banana or cooked vegetables. This will offer the baby an opportunity to use their chewing skills and also make use of their jaw muscles.
Finally, when you notice that your baby is handling mashed food well, it's time to start offering them soft finger foods that are easy to manage. For example, you may try frozen mixed vegetables that you cook until soft.
One of the main benefits of using pre-packaged finger foods is that they dissolve easily, which means that you don't have to worry about your baby choking while practicing their chewing skills.
These finger foods are also an excellent choice for eating out or traveling or anytime the baby could do with a snack.Extra tips for teaching babies to chew and swallowBe patient
Since the chewing and swallowing processes are not easy to master, many parents are likely to become frustrated. It's essential to avoid getting annoyed if your baby doesn't make much progress quickly. Being patient is key here, so if you notice that your baby doesn't like a specific food, don't just write it off. Instead, try again a couple of days later to give the baby time to adjust to the new taste and texture.Introduce new foods one at a time
It's always a good idea to introduce new food items one other time in order for the baby to get used to a specific taste and texture before progressing to the next one.
Many babies love mimicking parents while eating, so you should allow them to sit next to you during breakfast, lunch, or dinner. By allowing babies to watch the rest of the family eat, you may encourage them to pick food in their hands and chew it on their own. This is especially important for babies who don't seem to have a particular interest in food.Feed the baby at fixed times
Try to offer the baby food at fixed times and make sure that they are hungry when introducing new foods. Babies who are already full are unlikely to be enthusiastic about chewing new types of foods.Help babies improve their chewing skills
Once you notice that your baby has become better at chewing and swallowing, it's important to help them improve their skills. Here are some tips for doing that effortlessly.
- Try to demonstrate to your baby how to eat with their mouth closed. This is something that babies should try and learn sooner rather than later.
- Teach babies to chew their food for a longer period of time because this will help them with digestion.
- Finally, always provide positive reinforcement when the baby does the right thing with chewing. By doing so, you will encourage them to chew and swallow correctly.
Always keep in mind that chewing is a skill that comes gradually, which means that not all babies will be mastering it at the same age. Every baby is unique, so if you notice that they have some problem showing for the first time or they're struggling with certain foods, you should always give them more time.
Practice with various foods to see what works best for your baby's first solid foods, and remember to keep them away from very hard pieces of food before they learn how to chew and swallow properly. As with most things baby related, patience always pays off.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.
How Babies Learn to Chew
Babies don’t need to learn how to swallow.But they do need to learn how to chew.
Swallowing is a brainstem reflex present in utero. Babies are born with the ability to swallow. Some struggle with the oral motor skills to latch at the breast or feed from a bottle, but most are born with the ability to swallow. Chewing, however, is a motor pattern a baby must learn.
Just starting solids? Have a look at our virtual course on starting solids as well as our guides and recipes on for the best first foods for baby. And if you are struggling with the transition from spoon feeding / purees to self-feeding with table food, watch our Spoons to Fingers video.
Chewing is a reflex
Fact: It’s actually tricky for babies to move purée around in the mouth. This is because purées do not trigger the reflexes to move the tongue. To swallow purée, baby needs to rely on a sucking pattern. But without a nipple to push their tongue against, it’s hard. To compensate, babies often suck on a spoon. This sucking moves the purée back and the swallow is triggered.
With solid food, we need to bite the food, move it to the side to chew, move it back to the center of the tongue, and then backwards to swallow. Thankfully, babies are born with reflexes for this: the phasic bite reflex + tongue lateralization reflex. Ever stick a finger on baby’s gums and feel them bite? That’s the phasic bite reflex. The tongue lateralization reflex moves the tongue to the side when the edge of the tongue is touched.
Importantly, these reflexes start to fade around 9 months of age. Which means the most strategic time to learn how to chew is from 6 to 8 months of age.
To learn to chew, a baby needs chewable food that they can easily manipulate with their hands and mouth. This is why we love long, resistive foods: mango pit, chicken drumstick, corn cob, spare rib, etc. These foods trigger both reflexes beautifully. Do we expect much consumption? No. The point is practice.
Ads of the last 100 years set parents up to believe that babies need to gradually move from one stage of thickness to another to learn how to eat. This is not true.
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K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC
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How to teach a child to chew food properly
Modern man has a big problem - we don't know how to eat. Adults do not have enough time for a normal meal at a calm pace, and in most cases children are not even taught to chew. Many parents specifically feed their babies soft or pureed foods. Everyone is afraid that the child will be capricious or choke. Let's figure it out - what is the mistake of this approach and why is chewing so important?
Usually people literally swallow food and quickly wash it down with a hot or sweet liquid, and this is where the meal ends. Among the consequences: digestive problems and regular overeating, since the body requires much more energy to absorb poorly chewed food.
The process of digestion of food begins in the mouth. Saliva is secreted in the mouth, which contains enzymes and breaks down easily soluble substances and softens more dense ones. Teeth and tongue grind and grind food. By the time the food enters the stomach, it will be much easier to digest and assimilate it than if you just swallow the product (otherwise it will ferment, which will negatively affect the digestive tract).
According to Chinese and American studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants in the experiment consumed 11.9% fewer calories, regardless of their build, their body was satiated faster, less likely to have a feeling of hunger, and even managed to lose some weight.
We are not united with food
Chewing not only ensures a normal digestive process, but also has a number of other benefits. If in time (from 6-7 months) you start to teach the baby to chew, he will form an overbite. What's more, a Belgian study published in the journal J Voice showed that chewing promotes the proper development of speech. When a baby chews, bites, or licks, the lips, tongue, cheeks, and jaws work. This is how the same motor skills develop as when speaking. In practice, it turns out that the process of eating food is the most pleasant type of articulatory gymnastics.
Pediatrician of the highest category Yulia Viktorovna Andronnikova told us about other functions of chewing:
- Slow chewing allows you to get enough of less food, as the signal will have time to arrive at the hunger and appetite regulation centers.
- Chewing movements activate areas of the cerebral cortex that are responsible for cognitive abilities. In children, chewing stimulates development. If this process is disturbed, dementia can progress in old age.
- Chewing movements form the facial skeleton, which is very important for proper breathing and blood supply to the central nervous system.
- Not a single cosmetic procedure will help to keep in good shape and improve the blood supply to the mimic muscles of the face like proper (slow) chewing.
How to chew
Eat consciously, disconnecting from external stimuli. Place a small portion in your mouth and chew at least 32 times. (1 for each healthy tooth + 3 for each missing one).
There is a method of therapeutic chewing:
- the first week - each spoonful of food is chewed ONE minute
- second week - TWO minutes
- third week - THREE
- fourth - TWO
- fifth - ONE
When and how to teach your child
To prepare your child for chewing, you can make faces, make faces and make chewing movements. When the baby "speaks baby", answer him. The child will repeat after you and actively move his jaws, tongue and lips.
The sooner parents introduce the child to foods of different hardness, the more willingly he will try new foods. As soon as the child began to make chewing movements, slurp and smack, he developed a food interest, and especially when the first teeth appear, you can give pieces of food (soft boiled vegetables, such as carrots). The optimal age for the first acquaintance with food is 6-7 months. Children are old enough to accept new food, but still too young to start acting up and resenting at the table.
What to feed
Offer your child food that won't crumble in the mouth or get stuck. No bread or berries! You can give your child a banana, boiled potatoes, baby cottage cheese or a baked apple. When the child "masters" these products, offer him boiled beets, peeled cucumber or a piece of cheese.
Up to six months, children have an active expulsion reflex - a natural defense against suffocation. Therefore, at the beginning of "communication" with semi-solid food, the child may choke and spit out food. There is no need to be frightened and abruptly return to mashed potatoes and ground products! Chewing is a skill and needs to be developed.
If you have introduced semi-solid food long enough and the child is still choking, give him time. Put food in front of the baby and watch - let him try to put food in his mouth with his hand on his own. Children should be praised and not scolded at the table! Otherwise, eating can become associated with violence and lead to an eating disorder.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 94, Issue 3, September 2011, Pages 709–716, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.015164
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Mastation of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite, andhormone response. Bridget A Cassady. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/608-11.pdf
- Cell. Nicolas Dutzan. Published: January 10, 2017 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2016.12.010
- Effectiveness of Chewing Technique on the Phonation of Female Speech-Language Pathology Students: A Pilot Study. Meerschman I DOI:10.1016/j.jvoice.2015.06.016
When does a baby start chewing and how can a mother prepare for it?
By 4-6 months, your baby can swallow foods that are thicker than breast milk or formula. In the first months of life, children have a protective reflex: any solid substance that gets into their mouth immediately provokes the pushing of the tongue out so that the baby does not choke . The reflex weakens just in time for 4-6 months. At the same time, the first teeth erupt, the child is already learning to control his tongue, which indicates the first degree of physiological readiness of the chewing apparatus. But there is also a psychological side: if the little one himself shows interest in “solid” food (he watches with curiosity how his parents eat and opens his mouth with them), then the time has definitely come.
How to start?
Baby food should be chopped according to age. Ready-made baby purees will help you navigate: for each age there is a different degree of grinding. If you are cooking yourself, go from pureed to chopped and chopped food, making the pieces larger and larger, as in factory food.
If you are late in learning to chew, do not pressure your baby, do not demand immediate results from him or punish him. The child is not at fault.
When learning to chew, it is important to use the feeding spoon correctly. It is necessary that its contents be closer to the middle of the baby's tongue - it is from this place that it is most convenient for the child to "process" food. When the teeth erupt, let the baby "nibble" the dryer, a piece of an apple or carrot - this is a good chewing reflex training.
If the baby refuses to chew and swallow food, try changing the product. He may be willing to put in more effort for his favorite treat.
Start on time
Timely start of complementary foods is the key to successful development of the chewing reflex. Breastfeeding babies are recommended to start complementary foods at 5-6 months, and "artificial" babies, as a rule, a month earlier. One of his tasks is to make the child chew. At this age, the child is physiologically ready to work with the gums (after all, it is with them that he makes the first chewing movements), with the tongue and erupting teeth. If the moment is missed, the baby will get used exclusively to liquid food, the swallowing of which does not require much effort, and it will be more difficult to accustom him to make efforts.
It is not always easy for a baby to adapt to the fact that food is now not so easily swallowed. And if it doesn't taste good, most kids do the same thing: they immediately spit it out. There is only one way out for parents in this case - patience. It is believed that a child should be accustomed to one product at least 5 times and only after repeated unsuccessful attempts to move on to another. For example, if a child refuses zucchini for 4-5 days, offer him a pumpkin on the sixth day.
- Getty Images/Blend Images
If your baby flatly refuses to eat thicker foods, go for a trick: choose a puree of the appropriate degree of crushing, smear the child's lips and watch his reaction.