“I want you to think about a food or texture that makes you feel ‘ick.’ Now, imagine someone bigger and faster than you pushing it into your mouth! Then, imagine you are strapped to a chair and can’t verbally communicate!”
Speech and Language Pathologist, Nikki Henry, treats children with oral-motor and sensory disorders, and says the nightmare description above can exacerbate feeding issues. That’s why she’s a big fan of “Born To Eat,” a book that creates a whole-foods family centered approach to baby’s first bite.
You can read more about the particulars of this approach in the first part of my book review for “Born to Eat” here.
The book is based on baby-led weaning, which allows baby to explore a variety of flavors, textures and shapes in a child-directed manner.
Henry says this approach can be particularly beneficial to children with certain feeding issues, because it allows them to become familiar with and manage a variety of textures.
Henry cautions that this approach is not a “cure all for sensory issues” but she strongly believes some sensory issues may be avoided.
“The bottle, breast, or spoonful of pureed food goes straight to the back of the mouth. This robs the child of experiencing the preparation phase before swallowing. When an actual texture is finally introduced they do not know how to manage it, which can sometimes produce anxiety and avoidance of specific textures,” Henry explains.
3 Steps to Begin the “Born to Eat” approach with a child who is delayed or has feeding issues:
1. First, Henry says “identify where your child falls in his development.” For example, if your 6-month-old child is developmentally at a 3-4 month level, then they are not ready to dive into solids.
“Keep in mind that it’s not just about food in mouth and swallow,” Henry explains. Fine and gross motor skills are essential in a child’s readiness to eat.
Your child needs to be able to sit with little support, and must be able to bring food to his mouth independently. Henry emphasizes the child should sit upright in a highchair with foot support, and the caregiver should always be near and watchful.
2. Henry recommends continuing breast or bottle while introducing solids.
The “Born to Eat” philosophy is “food before one is just fun.” This mantra may be extended for children with Down syndrome, who are slower to develop. Henry says this means, at this point, solids serve as a tool or exploration and perfecting texture management skills, not to provide all of baby’s nutritional needs.
3. Lastly, start with safe foods outlined in the book.
Henry recommends finger-sized foods (2-3 inch sticks) that they can hold and independently mouth. You can use larger chip size/shape foods as well (not actual chips).
“A good food safety test is if you can push the food into the roof of your mouth with your tongue it is okay. With my daughter we did a lot of avocado, green beans (strings off), bananas and even steak! When she was gumming the steak, we were confident that she couldn’t break a piece off but she definitely enjoyed all the delicious juices (and the nutrition it provided).”
Even children on gtubes can start BLW if they are cleared by their pediatrician.
“I do recommend oral exploration especially during the feeds to make the connection between the mouth, eating and feeling full. If oral feeds aren’t allowed at the time, try mouthing a toy, a rubber spoon/fork, and/or a sensory chewing tool (I like chewy tubes),” Henry says of children with gtubes.
When a child has no oral stimulation for an extended amount of time, it can be a sensory shock when they do finally eat orally. Henry says it’s important to know you child’s current skill level well and work closely with their intervention team.
Baby-led weaning allows our children to explore different textures, flavors, and shapes. Henry says this is the exact approach she’s taken with other oral-motor tools. The two approaches mesh well together, and will serve children well in the long run.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, sponsoring, financial incentive, or other inducements to write this article