Making The Most Of Your Baby’s First Mealtimes
Your baby’s first interaction with food should be full of calmness, exploration, and most importantly, fun! Use these tips to navigate mealtimes for a positive experience.
Setting the Mealtime Environment
- Wait for a good mood. Pick a time when your baby is most alert, comfortable, and awake. It should not be too close to naptime or her next meal. Ideally, you want it to be at least one hour after her previous feed and one hour before her next feed.
- Limit distractions. Mealtime should be a screen-free activity – that means no TV, tablets, or phones for both baby and parent. Music and books are great ways to get your baby calm, but once mealtime begins put everything away and focus on the food.
- Expect a mess. It’s okay to be messy! Allow your baby to touch and explore her food. Constant wiping can be upsetting.
- Practice eye contact and smiles. Sit at eye level with your baby rather than towering over her. Your stress can be contagious, so put a smile on during mealtime.
- Ditch the “one more bite” mentality. Your baby’s stomach is small, and the purpose of the first few meals is for development and not for calories. Force-feeding does not work. The division of feeding responsibility begins during infancy. It is the parent’s role to provide nutritious food, and it is the child’s job to decide if and how much she will eat.
- Follow your baby’s cues. Smiling, opening his mouth, cooing, and waving arms are signs to continue feeding. Falling asleep, pushing the spoon away, crying, and closing his mouth are signs to stop feeding.
- Start family meals early. Your baby will begin to mimic your eating, which is an opportunity to teach social skills, food preferences, and even table manners.
- Use small portions and limit options. Large portions and endless variety can be overwhelming. Allow your baby to finish her small serving, provide positive messages, such as “good job,” and then offer more. Limit each meal to only two or three foods.
Mealtime Didn’t Go as Expected, Now What?
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan or how we thought they would, and that’s okay. Your baby may not always want the food you give him. It’s your job to recognize the signs and what to do when it happens.
If your baby refuses to eat you need to figure out why he’s refusing food and then you can find a solution. A few reasons may be:
- If your baby seems interested in food, but continues to push the food out of her mouth with her tongue instead of swallowing, it is a sign that her tongue-thrust reflex is still active, and she is not yet ready for solids. If this is the case, wait one week and try again.
Teething, illness & tiredness
- If your baby is teething, sick, or tired during meals, put food on hold and focus on breast milk or formula. Re-visit solids when she feels better, and adjust her meal to a different part of the day.
Gagging (or vomiting) during meals
- If your baby is gagging during meals, make sure the food is smoothly pureed. If it is too thick or chunky, use breast milk or formula to thin it out. And, make sure you are using a small baby spoon for feedings. Some mild coughing and gagging is expected as your baby learns to eat, but if it’s frequent, it may be a sign she is not ready, so take a break from food and re-try in one to two weeks. If the gagging persists, speak to your pediatrician.
- If your baby is constipated, it can cause him to become fussy, uncomfortable, and less interested in food. Constipation in infants is the presence of hard, dry, or infrequent bowel movements. Offer sorbitol containing fruits, like prunes and pears, provide an extra two to four ounces of water, and massage his belly in a warm bath. If the constipation continues, call your pediatrician.
- Some poop change is normal. Expect to see some new colors and shapes in the diaper as your baby’s tummy is adjusting to the new foods and fibers.
- If you sense any intolerance, which could be skin rashes, hives, vomiting, extreme irritability after meals, diarrhea, blood or mucus in stool, stop offering that food and contact your pediatrician.
- If your baby is eager to try food, but then seems to dislike the taste, experiment with different flavors and flavor combinations. You may need to blend an already accepted food with a new food. Try to add some spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg, to excite her palate.
Stressful mealtime environment
- Remember your little one will pick up on your stress and can be overstimulated if there are other activities going on around them. It’s important to make sure your baby’s first meals are in a quiet and calm environment.
Consult your pediatrician for recommendations specific to your baby’s diet.