My Baby Can’t Chew - What Do I Do?
Each individual has a different capacity to learn. This especially applies to babies. Babies take their own time to learn different skills. Maybe your friend’s baby learnt how to start chewing at 1 and a half years old, and your baby is 2, but still, doesn’t know how to chew. That’s alright! They take their time, but there are ways to help them learn faster.
1. Muscle Development
Encourage activities that workout the muscles of the mouth and jaw. These are the muscles that are involved in chewing, therefore developing them will help enable your baby to chew food more easily. In order to develop these muscles, you can encourage any babbling and be talking that your child does. Also, making silly expressions will encourage your baby to imitate and therefore, help work out facial muscles.
The gag reflex is a basic survival reflex that helps prevent choking by pushing possible agents of choking out of the throat and mouth. As your baby grows older, he/she starts weaning, which means your baby is ready to be able to eat solid foods. However, getting used to food with thicker consistencies takes time. Therefore, your baby may initially gag when eating these foods. However, it’s important that you do not panic and switch back to liquid foods and purees. Keep trying until your baby gets the hang of it.
3. Food Selection
An effective tool to help your baby learn how to chew is to gradually thicken the consistency of the food that you feed him/her. In the beginning, most parents start off with purees. As a next step, you can add some boiled rice to the puree. Try giving your foods mashed using your hands rather than blended fruits. Feeding your child food that he/she prefers is more likely to encourage your baby to try to chew it.
This might sound questionable, but it has been found to be quite a useful mechanism to promote learning. Wait till your child is hungry before giving him/her food. If your baby is hungry, basic survival instinct will motivate him/her to consume the food, which will require chewing and is, therefore, more likely to encourage your baby to try it. If your baby isn’t hungry, then the burden of trying to chew will simply put him/her off the food, and this doesn’t facilitate any learning.
Some parents have said that allowing their kids to feed themselves has actually helped them learn how to chew. Give your baby the spoon and let him/her eat without your help. If a child is responsible for feeding himself/herself, he/she will likely be more curious, as well as excited and motivated. Even though they may only get a couple of bites in, it would encourage them to eat the food that’s on the spoon, which would involve having to chew.
These are a few steps that you can take as a parent to help your child learn how to chew. Some other steps include playing around with texture by allowing your child to explore his/her mouth. Ensure that while the food is slightly thicker in consistency, it is safe for consumption by your baby, without creating a choking hazard. Most importantly, stay calm in the process of teaching your baby to eat because they do take the time to learn and they will create a mess. But then again, that’s the fun part!