This age is an exciting time of development for your baby. They’re learning lots of new feeding skills and becoming more independent by the day. Here’s how you can help them learn to eat and drink, and to grow in confidence, as they embark on a new chapter in their feeding adventures.
Adventure #1: ENJOYING NEW TEXTURES
Setting the scene: Teeth arrive at different times for different babies, so don’t worry if they aren’t showing off their pearly whites just yet. As their teeth start to come through, they’ll gradually move from gumming food to chewing it.
Be their guide: There’s no need to wait for your baby’s teeth to appear before offering lumpy or soft foods – they’ll use their hard gums to mash it up. As with new tastes and flavours, you may need to offer your baby new textures several times before they decide they like them. You could start by offering your baby a thick puree with pieces of soft-cooked vegetables in it. The puree won’t separate from the pieces, and will move as a whole around their mouth, so they won’t have to deal with too many bits of food in their mouth at one time. Thickly mashed food lets your baby practice moving food around their mouth in an up-and-down, forward-and-back motion to prepare for swallowing. Offering finger foods? Make sure they are diced small, easy to pick up, and soft or able to dissolve in your baby’s mouth.
Happy ending: Fork-mashed baby food teaches your baby how to use their lips to wipe food from a spoon.
Adventure #2: FINDING FOCUS
Setting the scene: Your baby may get distracted easily and take more interest in your food than in their own.
Be their guide: Patience is the key here. It can be frustrating but this is normal behavior for babies of this age. Be patient and understanding as they try new foods and learn to self-feed, and don’t rush or pressure them to eat more. Encourage them to copy you by eating the same healthy foods at the table. Make mealtimes fun by talking, singing, and smiling with them. Limit distractions so they can focus on feeding. Move toys or other items off the table, turn off the television, and don’t bring phones or tablets to the table.
Happy ending: By introducing them to eating in this way you will encourage your baby to become a willing participant in family mealtimes.
Adventure #3: PICKING UP FOODS
Setting the scene: You may notice your baby is moving on from grabbing food with their whole hand to picking it up between their thumb and index finger. This is called the pincer grip and they may enjoy practicing this new approach to getting foods into their mouth, by Themself.
Be their guide: Ignore the mess and let them play with their food and explore it through touch. You’ll probably find more food will end up on their face, the floor, and the highchair than in their mouth, but don’t worry. This is how they learn to feed themself!
Happy ending: Mastering the pincer grip will lead to them beginning to use a spoon. It may even make it into their mouth sometimes! They also may enjoy using this new-found skill to feed themself.
Adventure #4: STARTING TO FEED HERSELF
Setting the scene: Your baby will show you signs when they are ready to start feeding themself. Look out for them playing with a spoon and bringing it towards their mouth. They may also start mashing food with their jaw. Holding an open cup by themself or trying to pick up food with a pincer grip are other signs that they are ready.
Be their guide: Consider using two spoons when teaching your baby how to feed themself – one for each of you so they can follow your lead. Choose spoons with big, soft-textured handles for an easy grip, and never use disposable plastic that can break. Remember that snacks are important too, and another chance to practice new feeding skills. Aim to offer your baby three meals and two snacks each day. They need frequent offerings of food because of their small tummy.
Happy ending: It may feel a long way off now, but your baby is taking important first steps to becoming an independent eater.
Adventure #5: TELLING YOU WHEN THEY’RE FULL
Setting the scene: Your baby is born with instincts to recognize when they’re hungry or when they’ve had enough food. They will decide whether and how much to eat.
Be their guide: As a parent, it’s your job to offer a variety of healthy foods to your baby throughout the day as meals and snacks. It’s their job to decide if they’re going to eat them, and how much they will eat. Never force your baby to eat a certain food or finish what you’ve put on their plate or in their bowl. Pay attention to their hunger and fullness cues.
Happy ending: Research has revealed that babies whose parents respond to their signs of hunger and fullness appropriately are more likely to stay at a healthy weight as they grow up.
Adventure #6: FLEXING HER TONGUE MUSCLES
Setting the scene: Your baby’s tongue is getting a workout as they eat. It moves from side to side to push food onto their gums for mashing.
Be her guide: If you’re buying baby food from a store, look out for varieties specially created for this stage of complementary feeding. They contain lumpy bits and have a thick texture so they can feel it in their mouth, but doesn’t need to chew too much.
Happy ending: As your baby eats, they’re exercising muscles in their mouth that are important for future eating.
Adventure #7: DRINKING FROM A CUP
Setting the scene: At eight to 10 months of age babies are eager to learn new skills, making this the perfect time to help them learn to drink from a cup.
Be her guide: Babies love to imitate, so show them how it’s done. Hold an open cup with two hands and bring it to your mouth to drink. Hand them an empty plastic cup so they can play, explore, and practice holding it. You’ll have to do the holding and tipping for now – they’re in it for the exploration! Encourage them to copy you and praise them if they try. Choose a sturdy cup that’s the same size and width as their little hands to help them with the grasp. An open cup, rather than one with a valve or spout, will work their mouth muscles and help them hone their drinking skills. If your baby needs a snack or drink of water during playtime at home, take a break, and sit them at the family dinner table. You can both go back to playing when they’re finished.
Happy ending: At first your baby might try to seal their lips around the rim of the cup. With practice, they’ll learn how a cup functions.
Black MM, Aboud FE. Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. J Nutr 2011; 141(3): 490-4.
Caton SJ, Blundell P, Ahern SM et al. Learning to eat vegetables in early life: the role of timing, age and individual eating traits. PLoS One 2014; 9(5):e97609.
Mura Paroche M, Caton SJ, Vereijken C et al. How infants and young children learn about food: A systematic review. Front Psychol 2017; 8:doi.10.3389/psyg.2017.01046.
Nicklaus S. Complementary feeding strategies to facilitate acceptance of fruits and vegetables: A narrative review of the literature. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2016; 13(11):1160; doi: 10.3390/ijerph13111160.
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