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.
Extrusion Reflex: Why Your Baby Is Spitting Out Solids
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 she needs to grow during those crucial first months. As your child develops (and with your pediatrician'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 her a spoonful of cereal, she pushes it right back out! You're left with a mess and wondering if your baby is a picky eater.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when your little one pushes solid food out of her mouth using her tongue, it's called the extrusion or tongue-thrust reflex. What seems like a baby refusing solids is actually an instinct meant to protect her. Since your little one's body is still developing, the extrusion reflex protects her 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 pediatrician before you begin feeding solids. The AAP advises waiting until your little one is at least 4 to 6 months of age before introducing solid foods as part of her diet. Still, even if you get the OK from your doctor, your little one might still push food out of her mouth. It doesn't mean she's not a fan of baby cereal, but that her 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 she's 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, like the Colgate My First toothbrush. Even if your baby's trademark gummy smile doesn't yet showcase teeth, an oral care routine is an important part of her overall health.
What might seem like a picky eater refusing her 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 she's truly ready to start solids. Watch your baby as she experiences food, and use the reflex as a way to gauge readiness before you check "first solids" off on your milestone checklist.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.