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Baby Spoon Wars

Nov24

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

I have been reading your blog since my son was born in February of this year, and have so enjoyed it. I have laughed, cried, and read WAY too many of your posts out loud to my husband. (Now I just send him a link and hope he reads it, because really – WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO READ EVERYTHING YOU WRITE?!?!?!?!)

Anyway, here’s my question/problem/dilemma that I am hoping you can help me with…

My son is now 9 months old and has been eating solid foods since 4 months (our pediatrician said it was okay to start). Up until about a week ago, he was a pretty good eater. His favorites were fruits and oatmeal, but he would would eat veggies if we traded off bites with fruits. And puffs (rice puffs) – don’t even think about not giving this baby puffs because the world might end. LOVE the puffs…

He was really sick with a nasty cold/virus/fever yuk two weeks ago, and since then, he will not allow us to feed him anything from a spoon. WILL NOT. He gives me this look like, “Don’t even try it because I will throw a holy fit and you will see tears. NOT GOING TO OPEN MY MOUTH except for crunchy things. Yes, those I will eat. NOM NOM NOM.” He is nursing just fine and drinks pumped milk at day care without a problem. And – here’s the second thing I can’t figure out – he eats applesauce for them from a jar. We’ve tried all different kinds of food – he refuses everything.

So, I casually mention this strange behavior at work (I am an elementary school teacher) and everyone starts in saying things like, “Woah. That’s a huge red flag. You must be worried…” and “So he has some sensory issues, huh?” So I am writing to ask you to please be honest with me. As a mother with an amazing and wonderful child like Noah, am I missing something? I mean, I’m not trying to NOT see a problem, but I didn’t even think of anything like my co-workers are suggesting. I just thought that he was going through a weird phase. Maybe it is teething related? Maybe this is because I ate so many nachos from Taco Bell while I was pregnant? (I can’t explain why but that was all I craved.) Maybe my co-workers are just mean and only capable of giving assvice?

I was hoping you might have some words of wisdom for me? I sincerely hope that all is well with you and you’re feeling better with all the pregnancy yuk. May it pass speedily!

Thank you!
Mommy to a Crunchy Baby

Okay. Honesty. Here goes:

Yes. Noah refused food from a spoon. He ate baby foods just fine for a little while, and then…he stopped. Right around the time (I think) we tried moving him up to foods with slightly thicker textures. I honestly don’t remember all of the details because at the time, I didn’t really think anything of it. Other than, possibly: Dang it, kid. Why are you being such a pain all of a sudden?

I thought it was a streak of self-feeding independence. He only wanted finger foods! He wanted to do it himself! Okay then. I shifted his diet to include as many pincher-grasp-friendly foods as I could; I handed him the spoon in case my involvement was the problem.

After awhile, yes, it became clear that we were dealing with a level of pickiness that completely baffled us. He still refused to use the spoon or touch anything “messy” or “squishy.” He’d touch things cautiously with his finger to see if they were hard or crunchy — if they were not, they were ignored. Purees and stews went out the window. Fresh fruit failed the “squish test,” as we called it, and so did cooked vegetables and meat and even pasta. He didn’t have enough teeth for carrots, so I fed him frozen peas right out of the bag.

We’d done everything “right,” we thought, in terms of offering lots of variety and tastes from our own plates and making mealtimes a positive, fun experience. And yet we were the parents who carried baggies of Cheerios and mini peanut-butter crackers everywhere we went because that is all he would eat. For months. The reintroductions of pizza crust and baked goods and the occasional mac-and-cheese were met with celebration.

So. Long story short. Yes, Noah’s sudden textural aversions were indeed indicative of his sensory issues. It wasn’t an oral-motor problem per se — he COULD chew and swallow just fine — he was just insanely hypersensitive and defensive about his mouth. If he didn’t like a texture, he’d gag until he threw up. If he LIKED a food, I had to ration it out in bites because he’d stuff his mouth super full (partly because it felt good, partly because he was SO FREAKING HUNGRY but still refused to eat non-preferred foods) until he choked on it.

Now he is five. Meat and fruits and vegetables and “sticky” foods (like applesauce or syrup or condiments) are not his favorites. They may never be. He would still probably live on crunchy carbs all the time if he could. But he can eat other foods and tolerate them and he is doing JUST FINE. He will even eat with utensils if we bug him enough! Huzzah!

Now. Your son. All of this is not to say that OH YES. A TWO-WEEK SPOON BOYCOTT FROM A 9-MONTH-OLD EQUALS SENSORY ISSUES; BETTER FIND A GOOD OT POST-HASTE OR ALL IS LOST. Hellllllll no. Let’s look at some possible contributing factors:

1) The spoon boycott/texture preference came on the heels of a cold. Congestion. Breathing difficulties. When you’re that little, figuring out how to breathe and eat at the same time can be a Big Deal. Having the spoon in the way of his only breathing option may have freaked him out a little bit, and he just needs some time.

2) He’s nine months old. Even Ezra, my life-is-a-buffet child with zero apparent sensory issues, developed a strong preference for self-feeding around this time. It can be REALLY frustrating to realize you have to cede mealtime control over to a small child who is going to refuse 90% of what you put in front of him, but the more you fight it, the more of an issue you’ll make it. Offer a variety of textures at every meal, refrain from the “just one bite” and the begging and the praising and the short-order cooking, and let him eat and refuse as he sees fit and act as if you don’t even notice. He’s still nursing and drinking; he won’t starve, I promise.

3) Speaking of nursing: Many (though not all) children with oral sensory issues have trouble breastfeeding. Noah certainly did. He did not like to latch correctly and did not have a strong suck, which was a contributing factor to my supply problems that led to my milk just drying up even though I continued to nurse and pump as much as I could. He preferred the bottle because it was easier, and probably felt better in his mouth.

So. Those are three reasons why you should not listen to your coworkers quiiiiiite yet. Give him some time, give him the opportunity to try a lot of textures (not just food — let him play with Play-Doh and Jell-O and whipped cream and a variety of different teething toys), and buy Ellyn Satter’s book to keep yourself from inadvertently making things worse. Mention it to your doctor at his next appointment, but please don’t feel like you need to go problem-hunting in the meantime.

Oh, and this is where I’m going to make you mad at me. Give up the puffs. I know. I KNOW. But seriously, they’re…garbage. Even the fancy organic “vegetable flavored” ones. They are super-sweet tasting and offer next to zero nutritional benefits. Completely empty calories. The baby equivalent to like, potato chips. And he’s probably past the point of needing food that easily dissolves in his mouth. He’s ready to start working his gums and whatever teeth he has with more challenging foods. And if he knows the puffs are an option, he’s already smart enough to know that he can hold out for the puffs, and he will. Replace them with freeze-dried fruit or some low-sugar whole grain cereal that at least has some fiber or something.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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20 Responses to “Baby Spoon Wars”

  1. Genevieve Nov 24 at 11:15 am Reply Reply

    Just want to add that my kids prefer finger foods. My daughter took the spoon for about 2 months before we made the mistake of introducing her to finger foods, she completely refused the spoon from then on. If she couldn’t get it to her mouth herself, she wouldn’t eat it. She’s now almost four, still totally independent and has never had any sensory issues. My son son, at 10months, accepts spoon feeding but shows strong preference to feed himself, usually unsuccessfully with a spoon, or soft foods chopped small with his fingers.  I just wanted to second Amy that preference of finger foods doesn’t automatically mean sensory issues.

  2. Cristin Nov 24 at 11:51 am Reply Reply

    Bless you, Amalah, for suggesting to nix the puffs. It’s true. They are junk. And he’s filling up on them. I would like to gently suggest starting soft finger foods. Cheese, avacado, banana pieces. It sounds like he can handle it. I always found it best to put the food on their tray and WALK AWAY. Let them figure it out. (Peek out of the corner of your eye.) That way it doesn’t turn into some god awful power struggle.

  3. Erin Nov 24 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

    My baby is almost 10 months old and about 2-3 weeks ago he started the very same thing. One day he ate everything we fed him on a spoon, the next day his mouth clamped shut and the spoon was not welcome. (He will open up for the spoon if it contains applesauce or pears but convincing him to try it so he’ll realize it’s applesauce or pears can be ridiculous.) Of course, I completely freaked out, my baby was going to starve, etc etc (yes, he’s my first, why do you ask?) and it may not be the case for you, but for us the problem seems to be that he wants to feed himself now, thankyouverymuch.

    That being said, when my mom and sister watch him, he eats jar foods fine for them. I think the difference is that at home we give him more of what we eat, he’s been given more self feeding options with us along the way. With them he’s only ever had jars of food and doesn’t really know that it’s possible to get real food from them. Once he figures it out I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of my jars/ frozen purees.

    Now that I’ve written that novel, I hope that at least is a little encouraging. It just sounded so much like what is going on at my house I had to share. (Also, we love the puffs at my house. Love. He would probably marry a puff if given the opportunity.)

  4. cagey Nov 24 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    Neither one of my kids liked baby food and pretty much moved right to adult food. Which included curry (not spicy! I just decrease the amount of chili these days). Admittedly, my 5 year old is not a great eater any longer and is deep within the caves of a “white” phase, but my 3.5 is still downing curries and other ethnic foods with us. My experiences with baby food left me to wonder if it isn’t just too bland for kids.

    Now, I say this with “experience” (and yes, I just laughed as I typed that!), so it is easy for me to tell baby food to go to hell. Believe me, when I was trying to feed my firstborn baby foods, I was so frustrated and simply positive that he was going to starve or die from some rare disease due to malnourishment.

    With my 2nd kid? I quickly nixed baby foods and just fed her whatever we were eating.

    Also? Ditto on the baby puffs things. Expensive!

    As an aside, I am now BACK in the baby food game because we just got a crested gecko and yep, they eat baby food. So there I am, all “deja vu”, scouring the aisles for the right mix. Turns out, Gordon likes apricot with mixed fruit. Awesome.

  5. Shannon Nov 24 at 12:45 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter refused to eat off a spoon around this age. It was a self-feeding thing. We just gave her an additional spoon for each hand that she held and played with, and presto, I could feed her off a spoon again. My mom showed me that after a week of me trying to figure out what to do to get her to eat again – major head-slap moment.

  6. Carolyn Nov 24 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    Did you guys have to give him any medication while he was sick? Or was he in daycare during the time he was ill (or have exposure to other caregivers?) Because it sounds like he is only refusing the spoon with you guys, so he may have made some sort of association between not feeling well and something that happened with you guys during that time period (e.g., “Everything mom and dad try to put in my mouth tastes like awful medicine!” or “When mom and dad try to feed me, I have trouble breathing and swallowing!”). Whereas at daycare, it sounds like he hasn’t made that association (which is why I asked if he’d been solely with the two of you while he was sick!) So it might be any of the possibilities that everyone has already thrown out there, but I thought I’d offer another scenario – that he’s just confused and made an incorrect assumption, and it might have less to do with food texture and self-feeding and more to do with thinking eating from a spoon equals being sick. Good luck!

  7. dcfullest Nov 24 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    Every. Single. Time. My 13 month old son gets a cold he won’t eat anything with texture and we have to go back to purees and the food thing is the last “symptom” to leave. I’m betting this is just your son’s body’s way of dealing with a cold.

  8. laura Nov 24 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter refused the spoon after like 1 month (at 7 months). She just wanted to do it herself. I never even considered sensory issues. But if you are looking for a healthy alternative to the puffs–I like those gerber yogurt melts. They are kind of pricey (compared to giving her some of what I’m eating) but have probiotics and it’s yogurt, right? Please gawd don’t shoot down my yogurt melts. I really like them for after/during an ear infection/antibiotic treatment. Her appetite is really down then so I push whatever she’ll eat, and the probiotics fight the side-effect diarrhea.

  9. wallydraigle Nov 24 at 4:47 pm Reply Reply

    My older daughter did this. I think mostly she was just ready for feeding herself much earlier than I expected. She’s still averse to all things mushy, but I don’t think it’s a real sensory problem; she’ll eat mushy finger food if she likes it enough, and she doesn’t mind it if she doesn’t have to touch it with a spoon. I think this is partially my fault; I would clean her face and hands immediately if they ever got food on them when she was a baby (she had SO MUCH hair, and cleaning it was a bitch).

    With our second child, I’m approaching things a bit differently. I haven’t made special baby food since she first got used to solids. I give her whatever we’re eating and let her get messy with it. I cringe all over because I HATE cleaning her up, and I HATE cleaning her high chair up, but I don’t want her to have the same issues my older daughter did. I’ll put dollops of food down on the tray in front her and look away while she goes to town. She’s doing much better with food than her sister was at this age. She loves cut-up baked sweet potatoes, well-cooked green beans, avocado, any fruit (I buy bags frozen and then steam them and cut them up)–pretty much anything she can get her hands on.

  10. Wallydraigle Nov 24 at 4:52 pm Reply Reply

    *She doesn’t mind mushy food if she doesn’t have to touch it with a finger, not a spoon.

  11. Amber Nov 26 at 7:51 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for answering my question! Here’s the crunchy baby update and some other answers to questions.

    When I said earlier that we had tried all kinds of food, I meant that we had tried pureed food of all sorts, and finger foods like frozen mixed carrots, peas, etc…, shredded cheese, banana pieces, freeze dried fruits, etc… For whatever reason, crunchy rice-based things were the only things he would eat.

    I think, like a lot of you said, it was a sickness issue more than a sensory issue. He’s now eating some pureed foods, but is still being a little picky. We did try giving him his own spoon (which was great advice!) and that has helped. We have had great success yesterday and today with self-feeding, so maybe that was the key… Maybe he’s just ready to do it on his own.

    Thank you, Amy, and internet community, for all of your advice and comments! I am so glad to hear that other mommies have been through this around this age! (And I’m not mad about the idea to ditch the puffs – you’re right that there are much better things for him to eat. We were a little desperate, so we gave in, and now we’re back on track!)

  12. Julie Nov 26 at 10:49 pm Reply Reply

    @Erin – I found that jars of baby food or frozen purees made great “jelly” to go on toast or frozen waffles after my toddler moved up to those as a breakfast staple. And I would frequently toss a cube of frozen fruit puree in my own breakfast oatmeal as it cooks. I decided that I probably needed to use up all those froze fruit puree cubes before the next baby coming along soon was old enough to eat them – we’ve finally gotten most if not all of the supply cleaned out. :)

  13. Kim Nov 28 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    I made a ton of purees, which my baby rejected 2 1/2 weeks into feeding. I scoffed at baby-led-weaning, right up til then. Now I’m a big fan,. She eats pretty much anything and everything, as long as she can put it in her own mouth. She’s a liitle more flexible now, thankfully, but I. was. no. allowed. to feed her for months. SHe’s doing great – I’d do it that way with my next kid, only I’m not having any more.

  14. Christine Nov 28 at 9:29 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my gosh this is one of the reasons why I LOVE that I found baby led weaning. We have done NO cereal, NO purees — thus no fighting with the spoon and textures. I waited until baby was 6 months old and started to let him experiment with finger food, all in his own time. I have never understood the rush to get babies on solids so early. But like everything in the parenting world, to each their own. Not everything works for everybody.

    And Amy, THANK YOU for the comment on the puffs. I totally agree. I cringe every time I see moms singing their praise. I understand they’re a quick and convenient snack, but they’re junk food, plain and simple.

  15. Amy Nov 29 at 11:44 am Reply Reply

    I completely agree with Christine. We’ve done baby-led-weaning with our near 1 year old, and it’s been great. He devours everything we put in front of him, except plain yogurt (I mix plain and vanilla and add blueberries). We still spoon feed him yogurt though. Using the spoon can definitely be a control thing, so taking away the controlling “device” out of the situation might help. Baby led weaning has been so much easier. My son loves frozen mixed vegetables steamed in the microwave. They’re easy to pick up and just the right size. They also help with fine motor skills.
    My friend’s theory, to which I subscribe, is that the job as a parent is to give a child healthy/safe options, and up for your baby to decide what to eat/do. Just one theory.
    Not an expert, just what’s worked for us.

  16. Amy Nov 29 at 11:45 am Reply Reply

    I completely agree with Christine. We’ve done baby-led-weaning with our near 1 year old, and it’s been great. He devours everything we put in front of him, except plain yogurt (I mix plain and vanilla and add blueberries). We still spoon feed him yogurt though. Using the spoon can definitely be a control thing, so taking away the controlling “device” out of the situation might help. Baby led weaning has been so much easier. My son loves frozen mixed vegetables steamed in the microwave. They’re easy to pick up and just the right size. They also help with fine motor skills.
    My friend’s theory, to which I subscribe, is that the job as a parent is to give a child healthy/safe options, and up for your baby to decide what to eat/do. Just one theory.
    Not an expert, just what’s worked for us.

  17. Karen Nov 29 at 1:59 pm Reply Reply

    I started solids at 4 months because my son was 9 lbs, 2 ounces at birth and needed solids to fill him up by 4 months. He simply couldn’t be satisfied with breast milk. Every child is different, which is why I do not judge what other moms do. We do what the pediatrician advises and usually only when it is backed up by evidence, like our kids are screaming for food. Anyway, my son has sensory integration and only became a picky eater around 18 months. But, I did want to say that he will eat more for other people than us so they do know mom and dad will cave…whereas daycare/preschool won’t offer options they like better.

  18. Kiersten Nov 29 at 5:47 pm Reply Reply

    My kiddo boycotted the spoon a month or so ago (he’s 11 mo now). He wasn’t losing weight, but would only eat things he could feed himself (most of which ended up on the floor). I’ve found that he likes to smack the spoon and send food flying (he’ll eat from a spoon sometimes now). Then I found Ella’s Kitchen smoothies. He love, love, LOVES to drink these smoothies (but still won’t eat the same stuff from a spoon). What I found!!! I bought a reusable mustard/type container at the store and put his finely pureed food in there. He can sit there and squeeze the food out/suck the food out similar to Ella’s Kitchen/Happy Baby/Plum Organics meals, but I can still make his items homemade. And, of course he now just eats more solid foods. Unless it lasts more than a week that he refuses all solids, I wouldn’t be worried. My little guy also has refused anything but expressed milk from a bottle when he’s teething. It’s just a phase.

    • Athena Apr 18 at 3:56 am Reply Reply

      When Toshy went through a pouch-only phase we got an Infantino Squeeze Station. Now that he’ll accept other things, it’s still brilliant for storing the excess food in the freezer – much handier than cubes and such. Might be worth looking into? Since by the sounds your son likes the pouch kind of eating a lot himself.

  19. Athena Apr 18 at 3:53 am Reply Reply

    I’m with Amalah on don’t worry just yet… my 8-month-old is definitely big on self-feeding too (and also, y’know, WALKING and I WILL MOVE MAH SELF WOMAN). Finger foods – of all varieties – are met with pleasure (especially tomato. OMG tomato). Spoons… eh, not so much. Pouches? Sometimes. If we’re lucky, he’ll get distracted enough with the finger foods that we can get a few spoonfuls in.

    I do my best to just offer him a variety of finger foods, usually at least a couple per meal, sometimes as many as four (that’s mostly at dinner, where he gets whatever he can manage of what we’re eating) and frequently a pouch or something spoon-fed too, because this child changes his mind like you would not believe. A couple months ago we had several weeks where only the pouch would do. ONLY. Didn’t seem to bear any relation to the texture/flavour/variety of food offered, he just had to do it himself and it had to be a pouch. Sometimes finger foods were okay. Then spoons were in the good books again. Then neither spoons or pouches were good enough. Then the child ate a whole bloody pouch for breakfast (pretty consistently his smallest meal, he’s not so interested in it) this morning.

    The most frustrating bit is that it’s a little difficult to think up a variety of finger foods for an eight-and-a-half month old who still. Has. No. Teeth. x.x

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