Hello from Sarah Almond Bushell
I’m a registered dietitian and work with mums and dads with my digital courses, supporting parents through their baby’s weaning journey.
My experience with fussy eaters led me to train as an SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) Feeding Therapist. Starting solids is such as important milestone. Nutrition is crucial, as there are certain nutrients that babies need by 6 months that breast milk and formula alone can’t provide. This means that the food you give to your baby is extremely important.
But weaning is so much more than basic nutrition.
Eating is not a skill that babies are born with. They have to learn how to eat during the second 6 months of life. A lot of this learning involves using their senses and the more sensory experiences your baby has the more his brain develops. Giving your little one lots of different experiences with food means that he is stimulating his brain development. This then leads to new skills and behaviours.
This is why I have worked with Tidy Tot to define this new term of Sensory Weaning (take a look here). Together, we have developed a useful guide for parents which explains how a baby’s senses can be stimulated throughout the weaning journey.
At my clinic, I see a lot of toddlers who have sensory issues with food. Their parents come to see me because they are at their wits end with their fussy eating. In many cases, the problems can start because of the limited sensory exposure babies have had to food during the weaning process. This has become more apparent since baby food pouches came onto the market.
Feeding directly from a pouch means that:
• Babies are not exposed to different textures. If you buy the same baby food pouch 12 months apart the texture will be exactly the same. However, when you cook food for your baby at home, the texture between one batch and the next will vary depending on how long you cooked it for and how many seconds you blended it for.
• Babies are not exposed to how the food looks. This means that they’re not getting the opportunity to use their visual sense
• Aroma and smell is masked in a pouch, as the only opening is the lid so babies don’t get to use their sense of smell
• Even how food tastes is different when eaten from a pouch as flavour perception is a combination of the sense of taste and smell together.
• There is no opportunity for little hands to touch the food when the pouch is being delivered directly into the baby’s mouth
• Feeding in pushchairs while out and about means that babies may not have a stable base. This can affect their vestibular and proprioceptive senses.
Babies don’t get to watch and copy their parents when not eating in a family environment with everyone seated at a table and babies learn such a lot from watching and mimicking
The best weaning approach
How you choose to wean your baby isn’t important.
As a parent, your role is to decide on what your baby is going to eat, when and where ….. and then take a step back. Your baby’s role is to decide if, and in what order, to eat. This is called the Division of Responsibility in feeding (Satter 2000). The key here is to let your baby be in charge of what he chooses to pick up, play with, throw on the floor or put into his mouth, as messy as that sounds!
You can still practice the Division of Responsibility when spoon feeding, just be sure to follow your baby’s cues. When their mouth is open, it means that he is willing to accept the food. If it’s clamped shut or he turns his head away, take that as a ‘no’.
He’ll open his mouth again when he’s ready to eat. Either way, let him use his hands, have his own spoon……..it’s even ok if he decides to rub it into his hair! It’s all part of the sensory experience of food and ultimately learning how to eat.
Sarah’s top tips for Sensory Weaning
• Offer a wide variety of different textures for your little one to try.
• Let him get involved with the food and explore with his hands.
• Invest in a decent high chair that supports your baby’s waist, knees and feet. They should be at a 90 degree angle and little legs shouldn’t be left dangling.
• Put away the wipes! When it’s clean up time bring over a bowl of warm soapy water or sit baby on the side of the kitchen sink and let baby play in the water.
• Talk about the food, whether it’s the colour or the noise it makes! Describe what they’re experiencing such as ‘the pasta is hot’ or ‘your yoghurt is cold’. When they indicate they want a drink say ‘you’re thirsty’, if they indicate they want more say ‘still hungry’ and when they finished tell them they’re full.
There’s no doubt that weaning is a messy business and it needs to be otherwise your baby isn’t getting the full sensory experience she needs in order to learn about food and eating.
This is why I love the Tidy Tot Bib and Tray kit which ensures that your little one’s clothes, highchair and floor remain pristine! If only they made something for the walls and ceiling!
Sarah runs a digital course called Baby Nutrition, Weaning and Getting Feeding Right which guides parents through the second 6 months of life and covers not only nutrition and how to wean your baby but also encourages the development of the senses and prevent fussy eating.
You can find out more about Sarah and her courses here