I remember the first time I offered Jacob something other than breast milk. Somewhere near his four-month mark, I mixed a teeny, tiny bit of organic, brown rice baby cereal in with my pumped milk. When I put the watery mixture on a spoon to Jacob’s mouth, he gagged. When I did it again, he cried. I decided he was too young.
A few weeks later, we tried again. And again. And again. We waited a few more weeks and then gave it another shot. No luck.
What the Experts Say
When I went online, I kept seeing that it takes babies fifteen to twenty tries of a food before a preference can be developed. I heard from my pediatrician and read in baby books that we were supposed to start with rice cereal thinned with breast milk, then thicken it, then slowly move on to pureed vegetables, and then fruits. We were to stick diligently to the same food for five days in a row before switching to a new one, to ensure he didn’t have an allergic reaction.
What Everyone Else Said
“Try mixing the cereal with fruit or sugar. Babies love sweet!” was one suggestion we heard over and over. Nope, not Jacob.
“Are you sure you’re starting out with the cereal thin enough?” Yep, nice and watery.
“Maybe it’s too watery? Have you tried making it a bit thicker?” Check…he hated that too.
“Have you tried giving him other baby foods? He probably just doesn’t like the cereal.”
And, so began the daily trials: pears, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, beef, chicken… We offered each new food several times a day in five-day blocks. I even tried making my own baby food. You name it; he wanted none of it. He responded with nothing but gags and cries. I kept thinking, “How is this possible? Baby food is made for babies.”
By the end of Jacob’s seventh month, I began to wonder if I was going to be nursing him for the rest of my life. What happens if baby only likes mama’s milk…forever? I laid in bed picturing him in junior high school pulling a baby bottle full of my pumped milk out of his lunch sack in the school cafeteria.
The Turning Point
As Jacob was approaching eighth months old, we went on vacation. I decided I was getting too stressed about Jacob’s non-eating habits, so I didn’t bring any baby food with me. In the small kitchen of our cabin in the mountains, I put a bowl of chopped salad vegetables on the table next to the Pack ‘n Play that Jacob was standing in. And, he began reaching for a red bell pepper cube. Just out of curiosity, I peeled off the skin and took a little corner of the pepper and put it to his mouth. He smiled, smacked his lips, and reached for more! When I tried a tiny sliver of cucumber, he did the same thing. Next it was cheese, and then the chicken I had sautéed to go on top of the salad. I sat and stared, bewildered. I thought to myself, “I’m breaking all the rules.”
Within that week, Jacob tried and liked tens of foods. And, if we kept giving him the same thing for more than a couple of days (to follow the 5-days-of-the-same rule), he got bored and stopped eating it.
Where are we now?
Four months later, Jacob still hates baby food. I’ve held onto several (not cheap, organic) jars I bought and will test one on him every now and again. His aversion hasn’t changed.
So, where are we with eating as Jacob nears his first birthday? Here are some of his favorite foods:
Oatmeal with cinnamon and milk
Cheese cubes dipped in hummus
Lentil Soup (homemade or from the can)
Chicken cooked any way
Zucchini (cooked until soft and then sliced)
Broccoli (sautéed or boiled)
Whole wheat bread
Whole grain basmati rice with butter
Pretty much anything on mommy’s plate, fork, or tongue
The Keys to Getting the Food Down?
It’s been quite the learning process, but here’s what has worked:
Eating with him. Whatever I’m eating, he wants to try it. Today, he ate several cubes of watermelon, almost a whole slice of the leftover whole wheat zucchini and parmesan pizza I made last night, about a third of my veggie burger, and about a quarter of my stir fried veggies. When he’s eating in his highchair, I pull up my own chair in front of him. He offers some to me sometimes before he’ll take his first bite. Almost always, if I eat it, he follows suit.
Letting him do it. Sometimes when I’m feeding Jacob from a spoon, he just refuses to eat. As soon as I switch over to foods he can feed himself, he’s back in the game. I don’t know why, but some days he simply doesn’t want any help.
I do it. There are other times when I know he’s hungry but he’s not picking up any of the finger foods I’ve offered. It reminds me of the feeling I have sometimes when my stomach is growling at the end of a long day and I can’t muster the energy to prepare myself something to eat. Every once in a while, I have to put a few pieces of food to Jacob’s lips before he realizes he wants it. Even less frequently than that, I have to feed him his whole meal.
Spicing it up. Seriously? Yes! Jacob prefers his oatmeal with cinnamon. He likes garlicky hummus, and lentil soup with lots of onions. I make a yogurt dip with cucumber and dill that he loves. If he doesn’t seem to like the plain version of something after I’ve offered it several times, I always try adding a little twist: cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of garlic, etc.
Giving him a mommy-size version. Diced pears, peaches, apples? Jacob’s face tells me “not a chance” every time. However, if I peel a soft pear or nectarine and give him the whole piece of fruit, he takes little baby bites until most of it is gone! (I make sure to stay close enough to keep my eye on what he gnaws off. Although Jacob has always spit out anything that is too big for him to chew, I realize he could choke.)
Yogurt surprise. One thing Jacob kicks his legs and squeals over is flavored yogurt: vanilla, banana, blueberry, peach—he gobbles them all up. With the many jars of baby food I had left from the first few painful months of trying to get him to eat, I decided to do a little experimenting. Funny enough, he’ll gladly eat some (not all) of the foods he absolutely refuses by themselves…if they are mixed with yogurt. I can do a 50/50, veggie to yogurt mix with Gerber green beans or squash, and he’ll gladly accept.
The bonus of all this is:
- It’s no longer stressful to get Jacob to eat, and he still gets the nutrients he needs!
- I don’t have to buy or prepare separate foods for baby (although I’ve wasted a good amount trying to get him to eat it and will be giving away the rest he hasn’t touched.)
- It’s making me think a little more about my own eating habits. When I know Jacob is going to dive for everything I stick in my mouth, I want to make sure I’m making healthy choices.
- I see an end in sight to my nursing days. As much as I will likely hold onto breastfeeding as long as I can, it’s a comfort to know I won’t be pumping and packing my breast milk in his school lunches down the road.
Out of all the moms I know (including friends, coworkers, acquaintances, my mother, aunts, grandmother, and in-laws), not a single one had this issue, so I thought I’d share in case it hits home with anyone else. If you’re in my boat, give up on the baby food for a day and see if baby likes mommy food. You may be surprised. Who wants to eat mushed up everything anyway… even if all the other babies are doing it?