Overstuffing: All babies do it! This is a normal part of learning to eat. But why? Just like putting hands and toys in the mouth, when baby overstuffs with food they are learning to "map" the territory inside their mouth. Think about how a Roomba vacuum has to bang into all the walls to make a "map" your floor plan. This is similar! Baby's brain is making a mental map of where everything is and how to use oral structures during eating. Practice refines this process, and as babies get a better mental map, there is less and less overstuffing. The sensory feedback helps baby learn what a 'just right' bite size feels like, and how to use their oral structures to manipulate different types of foods (eg, hard foods need more force, soft foods less chewing, etc). This is exciting development- but also a little terrifying. Here are some suggestions for managing overstuffing.
Strategy #1: Provide big foods that baby can learn to take small bites off.
For example, opt for pancake strips rather than tiny cubed pieces, a half peach, whole asparagus spear, avocado wedge. As baby gets better with taking small bites, and has their pincer grasp between the thumb and forefinger, they should be ready for bite sizes pieces have less overstuffing.
Strategy #2: Slow them down by putting small food pieces in a silicone ice tray.
Baby may get really good with that pincer grasp and start putting small pieces in their mouth one after another. If servicing small foods, like raspeberries, serve them in a tray that takes a little more effort. You could also scatter a few small pieces across their tray so they have to pick up foods one at a time rather than scooping up in a little first.
Strategy #3: Add BIG sensory component to the food
Baby needs to feel the food, taste the food, to map their mouth. Things that give more sensory input would be cold temperature, crunchy texture, spice and seasonings. Baby food should not be boring! Think about rolling those soft, squishy foods in graham cracker crumbs , ground flax, or some other texture. Serve fruit straight from the refrigerator. Add a sprinkle of salt, cinnamon, cumin, smoked paprika.
Strategy #4: Model taking small bites. Baby is watching and learning from you All. The. Time. Exaggerate when you tear a piece of food off and chew. When baby overstuffs their mouth, say "uh, oh, too big" and model spitting it out with your tongue extended.
Starting solids can be one of the most fun early milestones!! Always eat with your baby and practice making mealtimes social from the start. They will become more confident eaters with opportunities to practice and develop these skills. If you are feeling anxious about solids or seeing concerns during feeding baby, feeding therapy can help!
Know that while overstuffing is typical for new eaters, older infants and toddlers should no longer be displaying this type of behavior. If they are, this could indicate a sensory or oral motor feeding challenges. Find a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who has specialty training in infant feeding. If you're in Spokane, Washington, that's us! Schedule a free phone consultation to see how we can help.