Tummy Times / Early Signs that Baby is Picky and What to Do About It 2021.03.10

Early Signs that Baby is Picky and What to Do About It

Melanie Potlock

Six months and starting solids: The first year of life is packed with new experiences and one of the most exciting moment for parents is watching baby take those first bites of purees or soft foods!  Food isn’t just about taste, it’s a sensory experience like no other. Babies are programmed to explore the texture, gentle temperature changes, sight and even the sound of new foods as they squish what you’ve offered in their tiny fists.  When food reaches the mouth, the aroma is especially strong beneath the nostrils and when that aroma mixes with the taste buds.  Smell plus taste is a completely new sensation known as flavor. You’ll notice a variety of reactions from baby with each new flavor, including giggles, grins and shudders. She may gag occasionally as she learns to manipulate the new foods in her mouth. The gag reflex is there to help baby stay safe but remember that it’s not foolproof. If your baby gags frequently at each meal or appears frightened by the gagging, consider that a red flag that may lead to fussy eating in the future.  Early feeding experiences need to be positive and repetitive gagging is never comfortable.  Still, keep in mind that gagging is not choking. Typically choking has little to no sound and you’ll see a panicked look on baby’s face, drooling and or her color start to change. Always keep a close eye on baby while she’s learning to eat. If baby gags, try to keep a relaxed look on your face and wait calmly, letting baby manage the gag on her own. Afterward, offer a very tiny sip of water if you’re sure that baby is no longer having trouble with the food. The liquid will help wash away any tickly residue. If baby is not yet used to drinking water, try a sip of breast milk or formula. (Babies can begin having small sips of water at six months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.)1 The most important thing being sure that baby is calm and comfortable before taking a drink to ensure that no liquid is accidentally enters the lungs (aspiration).  

Early signs that baby is having trouble adjusting to solid foods and may develop picky eating habits or possible a delay in feeding development include, but are not limited to the following:2

  • Baby is not gaining weight
  • Baby cries, turns away from the spoon or repeatedly swipes food off his highchair tray
  • Baby gags or vomits daily, even after a period of adjustment for new food experiences.
  • Baby eats only purees after he turns 9 months of age
  • Baby appears to just squish chunks of soft food with his tongue and is not developing a simple rotary chewing pattern by 7 to 8 months of age
  • Baby has not learned to bite into solid foods by 8 months of age
  • Baby resists a variety of flavors and/or textures, sticking to just a few “favorite” foods
  • Baby relies on breast or bottle feeding as the main source of nutrition after the first year, even though he gets “tastes” of solid food daily
  • Baby does not appear eager to eat solid foods by leaning forward with an open mouth
  • Baby has not yet learned to drink from an open cup (with parental help) or a straw cup by one year of age and relies solely on bottle or breast for liquids.

Why do babies develop picky eating habits in the first year of life?  They may have immature sensory systems that cannot tolerate certain textures, tastes or gentle temperature changes. They may have delayed motor skills that hinder the necessary movement and coordination of the tongue, jaw and lips for feeding. They may have medical issues that have been undiagnosed that make eating uncomfortable, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease.2,3  No matter what the reason, if feeding your baby causes you or your child stress, be sure to talk to your pediatrician, who will refer your baby for a feeding evaluation.  Don’t wait for baby to grow out of picky eating because any stall in feeding progress is considered a feeding delay. Feeding is a developmental process, just like learning to crawl, walk and run.  We want baby to meet all his milestones, including feeding milestones, so that each day can be filled with yummy food and fun feeding experiences for both of you!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP

International speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids.

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