February 01, 2023

How To Help Your Baby Learn To Chew

How To Help Your Baby Learn To Chew

Written by Pamela Lim,  https://joyfulparenting.sg

Learning to teach your baby to chew can be one of those things we take for granted or don’t think about much. We assume that babies will know how to chew by themselves when it comes to feeding. This may not be the issue for all babies and even toddlers but some babies seem to have no interest and may not figure out what they need to do when food hits their tongue. Well, just like walking and talking, you can also teach your baby and toddler how to chew.

Can Babies Chew Food Without Teeth?
Yes, babies can chew soft and pureed food even without teeth. However, food is mostly chewed by the lower and upper first molar teeth that emerge by 18 months of age. Until then, babies can learn basic chewing movements, which are further advanced by the time of eruption of teeth.   

What If My Baby Chewing is not Chewing?
Sometimes, babies need a little more time so do not panic if you don’t see your baby chewing. Babies have tiny mouths, which makes it difficult for us to notice their chewing pattern. Thus, it is likely you may have missed those little and almost-invisible chewing movements. The next time your baby eats, observe their mouth movements closely. If you still find no chewing movements, you may want to give your baby some more time. Each baby is unique and could develop the skill at their own pace.

Why is chewing a problem for some toddlers?
Babies typically begin to chew on their hands, toys, and teethers around 4 – 6 months old. This is when they become obsessed with putting everything in their mouth.

This is also the time when they start exploring the world, through their mouth!

Babies attain the ability to chew in their toddlerhood. A toddler must go through their own learning curve to improve chewing. However, sometimes, a few toddlers could have a delay in their ability to chew.

Lack of interest in food: 
Similar meals or affinity towards easy-to-chew foods may affect babies’ and toddlers’ interest in particular foods.

Delayed introduction to solid foods: 
A baby must be introduced to various forms and textures of solid foods by the time they turn 12 months old. The lack of parental experimentation in feeding solids could cause the little one to become disinterested in consuming solid foods, thus causing them to swallow food than chew it first.

Tips to Teach Baby to Chew:
Chewing is a natural ability that a baby will pick up eventually. Nevertheless, parents can try out the following ways to help stimulate, exercise, and improve a baby’s or toddler’s chewing skills.

Use Teethers and Toys: 
The initial start for babies to chew on teethers and toys is important as it eventually leads to eating foods. Teethers could lay the groundwork for a baby’s chewing process. Try giving your baby a teether and encourage its usage even if they reject it initially. Pick soft rubber teethers free of flavours and parts that may break. Avoid teethers containing liquids, phthalates, or BPA. When a baby is mouthing on their hands or a toy, they’re getting a ton of benefits. Due to sensory processing, some babies may skip this step because of the way toys feel in their mouth. If they don’t like it, so they avoid it. Other babies avoid teethers because it’s tiring and difficult. In this case, it’s probably because of their oral motor skills.

Help Them Practice on Large Pieces of Foods: 
If your baby won’t go for the teethers, another option is to use large pieces of food as natural alternatives. Carrots and celery make great natural teethers. Make sure you cut the vegetables into large pieces, which the baby cannot swallow. If your baby already has teeth, especially the front incisors, avoid this method since it may cause the baby to swallow a piece of the vegetable.

Demonstrate Chewing: 
Coordinate mealtimes when your baby is eating, even if it’s just baby food. Babies learn a lot during shared meal time. As you sit and eat together, your baby is watching you even if it seems they are not. They will see how you chew and try to imitate it. Try demonstrating chewing to them. Babies learn through observation and tend to mimic their parents.

Brush Their Gums and Teeth: 
Another way to encourage chewing is to start brushing your baby or toddler’s gums 2 times a day with an infant toothbrush. This helps them to get used to having something else in their mouth and it stimulates movement in their tongue. Tongue movement is critical for chewing, and many babies who are struggling to chew, are not moving their tongue well. Brushing, with a firm pressure, helps to prepare the mouth to accepting more textures and even helps to desensitize the gag reflex.

Give Them the Right Kind of Foods: 
Once they are around 8 months old, it’s time to start trying some real foods. Serve your baby foods of different textures after they attain the age of eight months. This will stimulate the chewing process to chew a specific food item. You can initially give them finger foods or crispy foods that soften when put into the mouth, such as puffed rice or graham crackers.

Encourage by acknowledging their successful attempts. It is important to teach your baby to chew food as chewing helps integrate saliva into the food and, in turn, aids in the digestion process. However, every child is different, and they need their own time to learn and adapt to new things and habits. There is always the trial and error process, and you will eventually be able to figure out what works best for your baby.