Food before 1 is just for fun!
There is a saying among those of us who work with young children and feeding that “food before 1 is just for fun.” Although this isn’t 100% accurate (more on that below), we know that kids are working on lots of important skills like fine motor, oral motor, and gross motor development, sensory mapping, cognitive development, social and communication skills – self-feeding before the age of one really is for exploration and learning and less about meeting nutritional needs.
If it’s just for fun, does nutrition count?
Absolutely, nutrition counts. We want to ensure that we are setting up our little ones with good nutritional habits that will last a lifetime and promote optimum development and good health. We want to ensure that what we are offering is developmentally appropriate and safe. What we shouldn’t stress about, however, is how much our babies are eating and whether or not they are eating every type of food we offer when they are just starting out.
In the first 12 months, the bulk of your baby’s nutritional needs are being met by breastmilk or formula. Because of this, parents and older babies have a wonderful window of time to explore foods and create an enjoyable social atmosphere around mealtimes. As parents, we decide the “what” and “when” of mealtimes per our own family routine and cultural preferences, but your baby decides how much to eat. Some days your baby might eat everything you offer and look for more, and other times the food may go untouched. This is completely normal when babies start eating and should not be a source of stress for parents just getting started with feeding solids!
When is the best time to start solids?
Many babies start trying solids around 4-6 months old but some parents choose to wait – and that is OK! The most important cues about when to start trying solids are coming from your baby. As long as there are no medical concerns, gauging your baby’s readiness to try solid food should come from the behaviours you see, and the developmental milestones achieved.
Some things to look for:
- Is my baby showing interest in my food?
- Does my baby watch me when I eat?
- Does my baby attempt to grab what I eat?
- Does my baby have good head and neck control?
- Does my baby have stable enough trunk control to maintain good posture in supported seating?
If your answers to these are “yes” then it might be time to try solid foods!
What about choking?
Before starting solids with your little one, we always recommend that you take a good Infant CPR and First Aid Class – we offer a fabulous online one at Oona. It’s good to know the difference between choking and gagging, and what to do in the event that your little one does choke. Spoiler alert: babies gag when they’re starting solids. A lot. A baby’s gag reflex is quite far forward in their mouth compared to older adults, so you will find that your baby may appear to be a bit “gaggy” when new foods are introduced. Not to worry – there’s a distinct difference between gagging and choking, and taking an Infant CPR/First Aid course will help you feel confident around which is which, and also how to identify if and when intervention is needed.
What do I do first?
Creating an environment that is relaxed and fun is so important! A good place to start is including your baby at the table when you eat. Eating is a social activity – it’s not just about the nutrition for our bodies; we eat to nourish our spirit as well. Get your baby used to the routine of mealtime in your home. If you don’t have one yet, or if your usual routine has gone out the window since your baby was born, this might be a good opportunity to create one!
Be sure to have your baby well supported in a position that makes eating easy. If using a highchair or other baby seat, ensure that your baby is sitting upright with an open, well protected airway and feet resting on a footrest if those little feet are extended far enough past the seat. This is an important consideration as your baby grows – having feet firmly anchored supports sitting and requires less energy for your baby to maintain that upright position.
Most of all – embrace the mess and have fun!
This is an exciting developmental period for you and your baby, we generally recommend having fun with it if you can. The reality is that starting solids with your little one is going to be messy – the sooner you embrace that, the better. Some families find that putting down a plastic sheet or a shower curtain under their baby’s high chair helps for easy clean-up. Allow your baby to explore food with their hands and mouth. Remember, that starting solids means that your baby is multitasking; they’re working on lots of other skills (like pincer grasp, and hand-eye coordination) while learning to manage solid food.
Still have questions?
We have an exceptional occupational therapy team at Oona who specialize in supporting you and your baby during this transition. We offer a wonderful Starting Solids class that runs every other month, or you can book a Starting Solids Consultation appointment or Starting Solids Package appointment with one of our OTs.
Do you have a child who is a little older and you are concerned about feeding development? Oona offers Feeding Success and Picky Eaters Assessment packages to support feeding development throughout childhood.
All of our OT services including classes and appointments may be covered by your insurance policy.
Call or email us – we’re here to help!
About Teddie Buchner
Teddie is an Occupational Therapist at Oona with a focus on pediatric and maternal health. She has worked as an occupational therapist in community mental health, school-based, and outpatient pediatric settings, eventually specializing in pediatric mental health and developmental trauma. Teddie addresses orthopedic and orthotic needs, environmental modifications, adaptive communication, sensory processing challenges, visual motor deficits, community mobility needs, work ergonomics, wheelchair seating, and supported employment efforts.
Click here to book a free 15-minute consultation with Teddie.
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