How to Teach a Baby to Swallow Food

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your infant is at least six months old to begin introducing solid foods. Solid food, in terms of feeding infants, refers to food of greater consistency than milk. Babies are born with a sucking reflex, but getting food off a spoon requires a different oral movement. Keeping solid food in the mouth and then swallowing takes practice, and your baby can best learn this if you help him.

A father feeding his infant with a spoon. (Image: Dangubic/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Wait until your infant shows signs of readiness before you begin introducing solid foods. Most of his nutrition will continue to come from breast milk or formula until he turns a year old. Signs that your baby is ready to try foods include a diminished tongue-thrust reflex, the ability to support his head and neck, the ability to sit up unassisted and an interest in food when others are eating, states KidsHealth.org. The tongue-thrust reflex pushes food out of the mouth before it can be swallowed. (This is a reflex babies are born with to keep them from choking on foreign objects.) Observe your child and watch for these signs. Your baby may begin grabbing at foods if he is allowed near you or others when it is mealtime.

Step 2

Select a single-grain cereal, typically an iron-fortified, infant rice cereal. Consult with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about beginning with rice.

Step 3

Mix about a baby-spoonful of rice cereal with equal amounts of breast milk or formula. Stir the mixture well. The consistency should be the same as breast milk or formula to make the transition easier for your baby.

Step 4

Try feeding your baby the mixture. If he turns his head, pushes the spoon away or becomes upset, then it is not the right time to try foods. Wait a few weeks and try again. If he is then receptive to the spoon and cereal, continue feeding him. Offer cereal once per day at this consistency for several days or weeks.

Step 5

Increase the thickness of the cereal mixture and feed it to your baby once per day for several days or weeks, but only if the very runny consistency was well tolerated. Continue thickening the cereal until you are able to follow the directions on the container for the ratio of water, breast milk or formula to dry cereal. You may be able to introduce your baby to other foods during this time. Consult with your pediatrician. Often the best foods are nonallergenic and bland, including oatmeal, mashed banana or other simple fruits.

Step 6

Continue practicing these steps with your baby and he will eventually swallow food like everyone else in your household. A baby is born knowing how to eat, but he needs practice.

Things You'll Need

  • Formula or breast milk

  • Single-grain baby cereal

  • Bowl

  • Baby spoon

Tip

Keep a baby in his high chair during mealtimes so he learns by observing. Allow your baby to hold and play with the baby spoon before or in between feedings to help him grow accustomed to the new utensil.

Warning

Wait at least four days after feeding your baby a new food before introducing something new. Watch for any signs of allergy or sensitivity, including hives, rash, upset stomach, trouble breathing, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea or diaper rash. Do not get upset at your baby during mealtime. Keep it a relaxed time so he learns to enjoy it.

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