Top Ten Tips for Pre-Feeding Warm Ups

By MDIO’s Feeding Expert and Speech Therapist, Robin Goldberg,  MA, CCC-SLP, TSSLD

Tips to support your baby as he transitions to solid foods:

1. Make sure your child has adequate head, neck, and trunk control before transitioning to solids. He should be able to hold his head upright and steady for feeding, and should be able to sit up independently for 3-5 seconds. Providing supportive whole-body positioning, with the head and trunk upright and feet firmly grounded on a stable surface, allows for the stability needed to isolate and coordinate the smaller muscles of the mouth for feeding.
2. Use a soft, rubber spoon when feeding. Begin with a very small amount of food (1 tsp) on the tip of the spoon. Wait for your child to open his mouth independently. If he doesn’t do this, you can gently touch the spoon to his cheek to initiate a rooting reflex and help prepare him for feeding. Bring the spoon straight to the front of your baby’s mouth, stopping just inside the lips, with the spoon tip just approaching the tip of the tongue. When your child closes his lips around the spoon, draw the spoon straight out. Avoid scraping food up and off the spoon onto the roof of your child’s mouth. The goal is to teach your child to use his upper lip to clean food off of the spoon and his tongue to transport food to the back of his mouth for swallowing.
3. Your child should be able to move food from the front of his tongue to the back of his mouth for adequate swallowing. If he is pushing food forward and out of his mouth, his oral motor system may not be ready for solids. That is okay! Just wait a few weeks and try again. He will let you know when he is ready!
4. Only introduce one new food at a time. When your baby is first transitioning to solids, stick with one food per feeding (e.g., infant cereal OR pureed vegetables). It is important to give your child’s oral motor and oral sensory systems time to explore new flavors, textures, temperatures, and consistencies.
5. Begin feeding sessions when your child is alert. It is helpful to start with breast or bottle feeding so he is not too hungry. Learning to accept and manipulate solid foods (removing food from a spoon, transporting food from the front to back of the mouth, and tolerating new tastes and textures) takes time and effort (both for you and baby!). The goal is to keep this experience fun and positive. Allow him to explore the food on his lips, chin, cheek, and hands. When he begins to fuss or seems tired, stop feeding. The goal is to establish positive experiences with eating from an early age!

Tips to support your child with sensory processing challenges:

*Note: Every child with sensory processing challenges is unique. Children may be hypersensitive (overly reactive to sensory stimulation), hyposensitive (under-reactive), or demonstrate mixed sensitivities to different colors, textures, temperatures, smells, and sounds. If you are concerned about your child’s feeding skills, please consult a speech language pathologist or occupational therapist for an evaluation.
1. Many children with sensory processing challenges benefit from a pre-feeding sensory warm up. Exercises to help prepare your child’s sensory system for the intake of food can include massage or vibration around or inside the mouth. Always begin with massage or vibration (either with your fingers, a wash cloth, oral motor toy, or sensory bean bag) on the hands and arms, then from the outer cheeks towards and around the mouth. This input helps to alert or “wake up” the oral musculature (cheeks, jaw, lips) and sensory system for feeding.
2. Children with sensory processing disorders may demonstrate food aversion or present as “picky eaters.” Remember that food can be explored and experienced using all 5 senses, long before your child may be ready to actually chew and swallow something new. Consider incorporating multi-sensory experiences to increase your child’s tolerance and comfort around new foods. Activities can include visually observing and describing foods (e.g., sorting red vs. green foods onto different plates), touching foods (e.g., cutting, mixing, poking holes, food stamping, “finger painting” with pudding or peanut butter), or conducting smell tests.
3. Be aware that changing too many foods too quickly can be quite triggering for a child with sensory challenges. Take note of what foods he or she currently eats and look for patterns in color, texture, consistency, and temperature. Let your child’s natural food preferences and patterns inform your decisions about what foods to introduce next!
4. Creating a sensory-friendly feeding environment can make mealtime much more successful. If your child struggles to organize and process sensory information, he may become overwhelmed by auditory, visual, and olfactory information that you may easily be able to tune out. Strong cooking odors from the kitchen, a visually crowded table (many different serving dishes or containers), or even brightly colored or patterned dishes can be distracting for some children.
5. Be mindful of the length of mealtime. If your child has sensory processing challenges, sitting for long periods of time may be particularly difficult. Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, he may only be able to sit for 10-15 minutes per feeding session. If this is the case for your child, don’t be discouraged. As his oral sensory system develops and new foods are introduced gradually, you can expect meal times to lengthen.

About the Author:

Robin Goldberg, MA, CCC-SLP, TSSLD is a speech language pathologist specializing in the assessment and treatment of developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, speech and language delays, and feeding challenges (food aversion and selective eaters). She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Speech and Language Department at The Parkside School, an independent elementary school for children with language-based learning challenges. Additionally, Robin treats children privately through her practice Leaps and Sounds NYC. Robin uses a fun and highly interactive child-centered approach to therapy, incorporating both structured and play-based techniques that support the whole child and ensure that new skills are carried over from therapy into the child’s daily life at home, school, playdates, and extracurricular activities. She has specific training to support her work with oral motor deficits and articulation disorders, sensory and behavioral feeding disorders, and autism spectrum disorders, including: PROMPT, Nancy Kaufman’s Speech to Language Protocol, The DIR-Floortime Method, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), The Social Thinking Curriculum by Michelle Garcia Winner, Food Chaining, and Lori Overland’s Motor-Sensory Approach to Feeding.

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