Noah’s 11 months old in today’s video and we decided to try and let Noah self feed today. As you can see he really enjoyed it (as we did his mommy and daddy.) I thought I’d share a little bit about our experience with allowing Noah to self feed for the first time for any of you getting ready to try this with your child.
I am not going to lie, my biggest fear with starting self-feeding with Noah was the MESS. I have seen this kid eat off a spoon and it isn’t pretty, so I could only imagine what he will do when he is in control. So the first step in deciding to let your child self-feed is getting a really good mop and lots of paper towels. It also helps to let them eat in only their diaper…your washer and dryer will thank you later. I have all but abandoned bibs as they only keep one section of him clean and Noah is able to target every area outside of that with excellent precision.
When to start
I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was doing or where to start. It is best to try self-feeding when a child is able to support themselves while sitting. Since this is sometimes delayed in children with Down syndrome I don’t think they need to be sitting on their own so much as being able to sit well when supported in a feeding chair or high chair. They also should be able to reach out and grab things and have fairly good aim at their mouth.
When they start doing this with toys, they should be more than willing to do this with food. They should also be making some chewing movements with their mouth, they don’t need teeth, but they do need to know what to do with a more solid food. Teeth will determine the consistency of the foods you will try. If your little one does not have teeth yet you’ll want to stick to easily mashed items. It’ll also be easier if they are interested in what is on your plate while you are eating.
Noah started grabbing our drinks and food which made me realize that maybe I needed to give him his own plate.
When we were introducing solid foods with Noah our pediatrician recommended to start with puffs, a classic. They dissolve almost instantly in the mouth and are easy to handle. I think our OT was a bit shocked when we told her with excitement that Noah was advancing his diet. I couldn’t quite figure out why until we tried the puffs. These things are not quite as easy to pick up as they look. As hard as Noah tried, he could not get them to his mouth himself. We gave up on self-feeding for a little while after that as I assumed that he was not ready.
Type of grasp determines food choices
I finally had an epiphany one day when I was at my best friend’s house. She knows all the cool stuff people are trying and had a book lying around called The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook: 130 Recipes That Will Help Your Baby Learn to Eat Solid Foods – and That the Whole Family Will Enjoy, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. (Long title, huh?) I was skimming through it and with their help it finally clicked what I was missing. I needed to match Noah’s grasp development with his foods.
Puffs are for those who have a great raking ability and more importantly a pincher grasp which typically develops around 9 months when children usually start eating more solid foods. The average age of a child with Down syndrome having a pincher grasp is 20 months. The reason I wrote the post on grasps is because I had just figured this stuff out and knew I would be referencing it now as I talk about feeding. Noah is still at a radial palmar grasp which makes puffs pretty hard to pick up. I had set him up for failure because I didn’t figure out his grasp prior to giving him foods.
Foods to start with
The book mentioned above has a great table matching grasp type with food choices. They recommend starting with large stick-shaped pieces of food. I started with bananas. They recommended making it look like an ice cream cone with the peel still on with the banana exposed at the top. Noah grabbed onto that, brought it right to his mouth and started gnawing on it. See…if I just put the right thing in his hand.
Some other options are veggie straws which are basically tube-shaped puffs, larger pasta with a shape that is easy to grasp like rotini, or cutting long narrow pieces of bread. Using long pieces allows the child to hold an object with an edible section exposed that can easily be put in the mouth. Compare this to the puff which gets hidden in the hand and has to actually be released into the mouth. The teething crackers, such as the ones we are using in the video, are also great as they dissolve easily and stick out of the hand since they are fairly large.
Next you can advance to foods that your child can pick up in clumps. Think rice, mashed potatoes, apple sauce, mac and cheese (do see why you need a good mop) and one of Noah’s favorites eggs. These are offered when your child is doing a raking grasp. Puffs can be offered at this time as well. When we started with these Noah was still eating the parts that were on top of his hand and not so much releasing it into his mouth. I however believe that this helped him realize that if he opened his hand there was more goodness inside
You can get smaller and smaller as the grasp develops to where some day instead of your child picking up a clump of rice, he is picking up the individual grains.
Likely will not get all of their nutrition at the beginning
I did not rely on Noah to get all of his intake from self-feeding alone. I would give him some things to play with as give him meals by spoon feeding in combination with milk. As he starts getting better I will stop giving him things off a spoon as much. You need to have a balance, and it may take a while before your child is able to eat enough on their own. This is ok. The whole point at the beginning to to be exploring not necessarily providing nutrition.
The Gag Reflex
Your child will gag. They are supposed to gag. You want them to gag. It will scare you. You may have your hand on the phone for 911 before you realize that your child is ok. Gagging is not the same thing as choking. Choking cuts off the air supply where as gagging gets a chunk of food out of the back of the throat so that it can get worked on some more. With choking you will not hear many sounds from your child and they will likely be changing colors, now is the time you want to shout “Annie, Annie are you ok?”, get your child out of their chair, put them over your knee and give them 5 back slaps to help get that item out as well as call 911.
However if they are trying to gag an item of food up, give them a few seconds and it will get there. Starting with mushy or slippery things helps the child swallow without problems. I have seen Noah swallow whole noodles before without difficulty. Chicken on the other hand causes us a lot of problems with gagging as he tends to not chew it enough. (NOTE: If you ever have any concern that your child is choking, or not able to breathe, you need to call 911 immediately. Additionally if you have questions or concerns about this please be sure to talk with your pediatrician, as this post is not and should not be taken as medical advice.)
I thought that letting Noah self feed would speed up the feeding process…I was very wrong. It has slowed it down, but that’s ok.
Noah eats his meals with us as usual, and I try to give him whatever we are eating plus or minus a few things. He likes to shovel the food in so we have to place it in front of him slowly. It is great to share eating times together and has finally brought my husband and I to the dinning room table rather than eating in front of the tv.
I know that several children with Down syndrome have problems with textures in their mouth. Your OT or ST should be helping with these issues. I encourage you to offer as many different textures as you can. Also try all sorts of different fruits and vegetables so that your child gets used to eating them. It can take something like 7 exposures to a food before a child will accept it as something they will eat. I find parents often just give the child what they know they will eat rather than branching out and trying new things. \
It’s very easy to get into a routine. Obesity is a big risk for our kids, and getting them to eat fruits and vegetables now will only help them in the long run. I noticed our friends over at The Fun House always offered their children fruits and vegetables at each meal, and their children devoured them. They definitely inspired me to be well aware of what I am putting in my child’s mouth. Do we venture out to pei wei and pizza…sure. But they are being eaten with a fruit or veggie on the side. 🙂
What foods did you try with your child first? What were you afraid of most? What challenges have you faced with feeding?