You know the feeling when you’ve eaten something and it doesn’t feel right as it travels downward? The body will trigger your gag reflex intuitively.
If you think about it, the gag reflex could prevent you from choking, so it’s a good thing. Most adults have the ability to vocalise this. But for young kids — especially babies — it’s a lot harder to understand the triggers.
Here’s a look at what you need to know about the gag reflex in babies.
Tips for Starting Solids
As you begin introducing solids to your child, it’s important to pay attention to texture. The recommended age for introducing simple solids like rice or oatmeal cereal to infants is around 6 months.
Creating the appropriate texture is important so that you allow your child to use their tongue to bring food from the front to the back of the mouth for swallowing.
Here are some easy tips from The Mayo Clinic for introducing cereal to your baby.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with approximately 2 ounces of breast milk or formula.
- Stir the mixture really well to avoid any lumps.
- Avoid mixing any vegetables or fruits with the cereal the first few times you feed it to baby.
- Offer the cereal at least three or four times before introducing additional solids.
- Once the cereals have been accepted, slowly introduce single ingredient pureed vegetables and fruits. When pureeing, it’s good to use a food processor or blender with a puree setting to ensure a fine, even, and smooth consistency.
Introducing Textured Foods
By around 9 months, you’ll start to offer small, finely chopped pieces of finger foods like soft-boiled vegetables, small pieces of cheese, pasta, and dry cereal. But this is where it gets tricky.
You might notice that as you’re offering these types of foods, your baby will experience a gag reflex and sometimes throw up.
While our initial reaction is to immediately worry and retreat back to smooth purees, it’s important to continue moving forward with your little one. This is the only way that they will build the confidence and ability to chew and experience different textures.
Note: You might notice that lumpy foods will not always be well-received because your child may just want to immediately swallow the food.
Here are some tips to help your child tolerate textured food.
Keep Texture Consistent
When adding texture, keep it consistent. You can make the food more grainy, but with no lumps. If your child has teeth, they can slowly feel this grain and will get more comfortable over time.
Eventually, take the smooth foods that your child likes to eat and add something like graham cracker cookie crumbs. This will make the food less smooth, but there will be no surprises. You can start off by adding only a very small amount and gradually increase as you notice acceptance.
Introduce one item of a chunkier puree at a time. For example, if you want to give your baby fried rice, start by providing small pieces of soft-boiled rice to your child on their highchair tray so that they get to experience the texture of rice and practice chewing first.
Let your child practice picking up, chewing, and swallowing food. This is important so they can become self-sufficient eaters.
As your baby is introduced to new foods, start by offering very small spoonfuls.
Let your baby watch you eat the same item. As they watch you, show them how to bite and chew.
Offer food multiple times so that your child gets used to the texture. Macaroni pasta, rice, and cottage cheese are good examples for practicing this process.
Try Dissolvable Foods
If you’re finding that your baby has continued difficulty with textured foods, try introducing solids or food items that dissolve easily.
Teething wafers and puffs cereal are good choices. Children with sensitive gag reflexes often do better with solids that dissolve easily, rather than lumpy pureed foods.
Try brushing your child’s teeth at least two times a day so that they experience different sensations.
Practice with Toys
If your baby enjoys putting toys in their mouth, offer teething toys that have bumps and different textures.
If you’re noticing that you’re still having issues helping your child overcome the sensitive gag reflex, try to stay calm and talk to them in a comforting manner before feeding them. They’re probably feeling distressed because it is an uncomfortable feeling.
Many children need multiple introductions to food before they accept it, become comfortable with it, and are able to eat it without gagging. Eventually, your child will be able to consume textured foods easily. If you’re still feeling anxious or uncertain, talk to your child’s doctor.