Feed Me - But Just Not That
October 18, 2013 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Baby Taffeta is 11 months old now and has a great appetite. The problem is she also has a great gag reflex, enlarged adenoids and difficulty with textured foods. We're finding it harder and harder to find foods for her that help her transition to solids that she won't gag on but that will help her get full enough so that she can hopefully sleep through the night.

Pretty much anything with texture - like small pieces of food in sauce - makes her gag. She loves to chew on things but manages to break off large chunks and then gags them back up again (so we've stopped letting her have graham crackers, etc). Even if we offer her smaller pieces, there is still the gag reflex problem.

She doesn't seem to like meats so we've been focusing on other sources of protein such as yogurt (good) and surprisingly, hummus. She also loves fruits so we've been blending those with yogurt as well. What other options are there for non-textured but still robust foods? Any other options for finger food that will give her the practice of her fine motor skills and self-feeding? We've tried Mum-Mums, Cheerios and pieces of vegetable. She likes banana, but it's so mushy she can barely get it in her mouth.

She can't have her adenoids out until she's at least a year old and even then we'd like to wait a little while until she weighs enough so that they don't have to intubate. We will probably also see about getting a referral from our pediatrician if her gag reflex is still bad when she is a year.
posted by tafetta, darling! to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can she drink from a bottle? I wonder if you could hyper purée baby food and liquefy it with water or some other base and then put her on a liquid diet for a while. Maybe even lukewarm smoothies could help if they're extra blended with yogurt?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:43 PM on October 18, 2013

Homemade refried beans? Maybe not actually fried but cooked to that texture. Also is avocado an option? If she likes it it's still mushable but not as soft as banana so she may have an easier time.
posted by brilliantine at 7:50 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, many parents I know have had success with what seems to be a bad idea here -- offer only stuff she has to pick up and gnaw a bite off of to eat. Don't spoon-feed. Lightly steamed or raw softer (cucumber, tomato, etc) veg is great, not too slippery. Cheese curds are perfect for baby fists.

Don't panic over gagging. Gagging isn't choking. Watch carefully, obviously, but don't let gagging freak you out.

Many people I know concluded that the baby food industry's idea of how to transition from mush to solid was the cause of, not a cure for, feeding problems like this. If you start with purees it teaches that chewing isn't required, and then purees with lumps are confusing and get the kid to gag instead of chew. Forcing chewing, with giving stuff that needs to be bitten into, seems to do a lot to alleviate the gagging issues. Offer large pieces that need to be bitten into, not tiny dice.

Some of the advice here (from Gill Rapley, who writes about 'baby-led weaning' {weaning to solids, that is}) may be of use. Googling "baby-led weaning" will bring up a lot of good ideas for finger foods.

Not eating meat is totally fine (says this vegetarian-raised mother of a vegetarian kid) but do mind the iron intake along with protein -- dark leafy greens are a great choice there. I did not spoon-feed so when I introduced a spoon for learning refried beans were on the menu because (and the more control your kid has over feeding, the better things are likely to go) it is easiest to learn to self-feed with a spoon/fork with stuff that really sticks on, like refried beans. Or oatmeal, or yoghurt thickened with wheat germ, or tiny and very cheesy pasta.

There are lots of reasons to not put anything but milk in a bottle, but at 11mo she is old enough to start using an open cup (the Steadycup is a great product; you can also try a small plastic shot glass) if you want to try smoothies etc.

In re. sleep: "Sleep patterns are developmental phenomenon, they don't have much to do with hunger patterns. Kids wake up hungry, but they don't wake up because they are hungry." via
posted by kmennie at 8:00 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

My brother and sister-in-law had these little basket things for their baby. They filled them with things like bananas and nectarines and she sucked and gnawed on them, but only mush comes through the mesh, so while they kept her occupied and she got the flavors and a bit of juice, there was nothing to choke on.

It won't help with her getting enough to actually fill her up, but it does give her an opportunity to practice feeding herself a bit.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Around that time we still fed our critter blended up meat. Cook up a batch of chicken thighs, drop them in the food processor and thin with just a bit of water. Easy peasy to portion up into little freezer containers, and she loved them. That and meatloaf. Oh God did she love meatloaf.

We didn't have a gag problem, but maybe we just avoided it completely. My wife was always super worried about choking, so we never really even tried eating really solid things at that age.
posted by sanka at 8:07 PM on October 18, 2013

Guacamole, re-fried beans, blended cottage cheese, scrambled then blended eggs, with or without cheese or other vegetables. Blended dinner of what ever you are having. Breast milk or formula. And what you are feeding her. Mostly, I think you want for her to think that eating is something pleasant and not something that should be avoided due to gagging. Once you have the other issues fixed, I doubt you will have much problem slowly introducing solid foods and having her eat them, especially if you do now the foods she will be eating later (like what you are having for dinner.)

I am on a FB group that has people who do no foods other than breast milk until after age one,so doing the foods that you are doing, as long as she is still happy with them, should be just fine.

As for fine motor skills...show her how to dip her fingers and suck/lick them off. Let her use her own spoon. Show her how to draw with a crayon on paper. Make a game out of picking up small things and putting them in and out of cups. Show her how to stick stickers on a page - you may have to hand her the stickers. Fill a pan with cheap beans or rice (not cooked) and give her some cups to play with in it.

As to sleep...that story they tell you in the doctor's office about sleeping through the night at 4 months...it is a fairy tale. Certainly a few kids do. But not all, and from what I can tell, not even most. Not one of my kids slept through the night until they were between 18 and 24 months. And I fed them well, including snacks and breast feeding before bed. Do what you can to comfort and get her to sleep at night, including breast feeding or a bottle of water in her bed. Sorry. But she WILL sleep through the night at some point, and it may be after the adenoids are taken care of.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 9:12 PM on October 18, 2013

It's not a finger food, but my 13 month old loves sweet potato parsnip leek soup, which is pureed and very hearty/filling.
posted by Safiya at 9:44 PM on October 18, 2013

Also: green smoothies! Yogurt, fruit, spinach or kale, and breastmilk, formula or water. Make it a little thick so you can feed it with a spoon.
posted by Safiya at 9:50 PM on October 18, 2013

The Munchkin Feeder suggestion is fantastic. You can put anything from advacdo to potato in it, but banana will stain and is hard to get out.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:38 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

As for protien my 14 month old loves beans with melted cheese. She's on a high fat high protien diet for some issues and this has been great at putting some weight on her and she loves it. We mix it up and use black beans with sharp cheddar or pintos with American, whatever tickles our fancy and she loves it. When she was younger I'd purée it together first and thin with a bit of milk or cream (you can use water but we had to do the high fat thing).
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:13 AM on October 19, 2013

My daughter has swallowing and oral defensiveness issues, and we do a number of things to reduce her gag reflex.

1. Work with a good speech therapist! They are actually experts on swallowing as well. Your pediatrician can refer you, or you can probably find one on your own.

2. Provide oral stimulation using the tools that you can find at Mealtime Notions or Beyond Play. This helps teach the tongue how to move food around the mouth as well as reducing the gag reflex.

3. Use a modified baby-led weaning approach. At this age, babies are all about developing independence, and letting them feed themselves makes them more interested in mealtimes. Big (marker-sized) pieces of fruit and veggies are large enough to get into the mouth and out again, and can be used as dippers in a variety of purees or other textures. Try umami-flavored things as well as sweet - sour cream, ranch dressing, and mayo are big hits here at our house. It's messier, but enjoyment of mealtimes went up 200% for both me and baby.

4. Learn the difference between gagging and choking, and ignore the former. Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat, just like falling is a normal part of learning to walk. We ignore or downplay the gagging, help baby if she needs to get something out of her mouth, and clean up any resulting puking. Once we stopped making a big deal out of it, gagging or throwing up stopped ending a meal and she can go on to eat more afterwards.

5. Continue to offer offending foods. We do graham crackers, oreos, and other hard meltables, and in a matter of two weeks or so, the gagging associated with those reduced dramatically. She really likes the taste, so she was interested in learning how to get that without the uncomfortable gagging. Babies learn best by being challenged, and we as parents have to continue giving them the opportunity to be challenged.

I wouldn't hold too much stock in whether food affects sleep - no matter what we do, it seems like it goes in two-week patterns at our house. Two weeks of good sleep, then two weeks of awful sleep, for no apparent reason except sometimes teething. My daughter is 13 months.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

My son loved saag paneer when he was a toddler. If you took out the cheese chunks, would that be smooth enough for her?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:39 AM on October 19, 2013

Seconding all of what peanut_mcgillicuty said. My 15 month old has some developmental delays and was behind in his "self-feeding". He had horrid reflux which he still is on medication for. IANATherapist, but we've been working with physical, occupational, and speech therapists for his array of delays, and one of the therapists gave me a great handout on what's called the "Developmental Food Continuum" (developed by Kay. A. Toomey, PhD. She has a website, but the following info was given out at one of their workshops).

When you're working with solids, she divided them into categories (copied from the handout):
1. Hard Munchables - examples: raw carrot sticks, jicama sticks, celery sticks, frozen melons in strips, bell pepper strips, bagel strips, frozen pancakes, frozen waffles (The goal of this is oral exploration only, not consumption yet)
2. Meltable Hard Solids - Town crackers, graham crackers, thawing frozen pancakes, thawing frozen pancakes and waffles, Snap Pea Crisps (Meltables are foods which will dissolve with spit only, no or minimal pressure needed)
3. Soft Cubes - avocado, overcooked squash, kiwi, veg soup without broth, boiled potatoes, peas, bananas (Soft Cubes turn into a puree with up and down pressure = munching only)
4. Soft Mechanical Single Texture - fruit breads, muffins, soft small pastas, cubed lunch meats, thin deli meats in small rectangles, soft pasta, soft meat soups without broth, soft pretzels, barley, scrambled eggs (Soft mechanicals are foods that break apart in the mouth very easily)
5. Soft Mechanical Mixed Textures - mac and cheese, microwavable kid's meals, soft chicken nuggets, french fries, spaghetti, lasagna, thin lunch meats, fish sticks
6. Hard Mechanicals - Cheerios, thin pretzel sticks, ritz crackers, saltines, most other crackers, hard cookies, poptarts, most other chips, many other cereals, sticks of hard raw fruits and vegetables, hamburger.

In the beginning, baby asranixon had trouble with his "tongue lateralizations" (moving his tongue to push food back and forth to create that chewing movement). We did have to work on that a lot before we could go to the next phase, then the next phase. The key for us was to look for those "Hard Meltables", as he couldn't really gag too much when his spit was dissolving the food in his mouth before swallowing. Add to that list any puffed cereal (we liked Kix) and those freeze-dried yogurt pieces (Gerber makes them and Target makes a generic version. Mommy has to get extra bags of them because she finds them so tasty).

I think the key is to keep trying. Learning to eat can be very frustrating for baby and parents, and it's OK to take a few steps back if you need to. It's all good practice for the little one, and the more that she can do by herself, the more confidence she'll have to try the next step. Don't panic or make a big deal when she gags, as that could scare her. Just say something like, "Oops, too big, take smaller bites", or "take your time", or "too far back". She'll get it eventually. IANAD, but if her adenoids are really getting in the way, you might notice a huge jump in ability once you get that surgery taken care of. Kids are pretty amazing in that respect. In the meantime, do find a therapist who specializes in feeding. I think you'll find it very worthwhile. Good luck!
posted by asranixon at 11:27 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised at how many people take it for granted that children at 11 mo should be able to eat normal food. None of mine could or would, and none of my peers' children could or would. In my world, babies that age can experiment with food. Meaning: they can be served biscuits or little pieces of potato or meat or whatever and try to figure out what to do with them. My older child liked wheat-biscuits with olive paste and she liked sashimi. My younger child liked cucumber sticks, pear bits and rice porridge. But for both of them, the main meal was still in the bottle. Actually, the big one still depended on breastfeeding till I went off for a week, when she was 12 months.
From 12 - 18 months, they were served anything we ate, but blended, and no 2 ate absolutely nothing but mashed potatoes and apple juice till she was about 18 months, when she started to eat everything. All along, no 1 had really bad sleep patterns, and no 2 slept "like a baby".
Both my girls are healthy and eat normally now, and the doctor is proud of them.
posted by mumimor at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2013

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