As a parent, you can't wait to witness some of your baby's most important milestones. From those first giggles to a few tentative first steps, your little one grows, matures and learns more each day. But before you add "eating solid foods" to your milestone photo album, you should know a thing or two about your baby's mouth. Something known as extrusion reflex could affect the way your baby experiences solids. Read on to learn the why and when behind giving your baby solid foods.
Your Baby's Development
For the first four to six months of life, your baby is more than content to nosh on breast milk or formula. After all, both have everything they need to grow during those crucial first months. As your child develops (and with your paediatrician's permission) you might feel ready to offer your baby solids between four and six months. Of course, it might seem like your baby has other ideas: When you try to give them a spoonful of cereal, they push it right back out! You're left with a mess and wondering if your baby is a picky eater.
The Extrusion Reflex
According to Dentoxpert, when a baby pushes solid food out of the mouth using the tongue, it’s known as the extrusion or tongue-thrust reflex. What seems like a baby refusing solids is actually an instinct meant to protect them. Since your little one's body is still developing, the extrusion reflex protects them from choking on or aspirating foreign objects in the first few months of life. That way, if something accidentally enters your baby's mouth, the reflex would push it right back out again, especially since your baby's swallowing mechanism is not yet mature enough to handle solids. The tongue-thrust motion ensures that breast milk or formula are the only things going into your baby's tummy. The reflex won't work on the breast or bottle, but might be engaged when you offer a spoonful of solids.
Talk to your baby's paediatrician before you begin feeding solids. According to Unicef, when your baby is 6 months their rapid growth and development require more energy and nutrients than your milk alone can provide. They need to start eating solid foods in addition to breast milk to keep up with their growing needs. Still, even if you get the OK from your doctor, your little one might still push food out of their mouth. It doesn't mean they're not a fan of baby cereal, but that their extrusion reflex is still there. There's no harm in waiting a few more days and trying again later. As your baby gets a little older, the reflex will gradually diminish when they're ready for solids.
Starting solids is the ideal time to solidify a regular infant oral care routine. You can use a piece of gauze to rub your baby's gums or brush food particles away using a gentle infant toothbrush. Even if your baby's trademark gummy smile doesn't yet showcase teeth, an oral care routine is an important part of their overall health.
What might seem like a picky eater refusing their first foods is actually a developmental milestone you might not have considered. The extrusion reflex helps keep your little one safe by expelling food until they're truly ready to start solids. Watch your baby as they experience food, and use the reflex as a way to gauge readiness before you check "first solids" off on your milestone checklist.