Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Transition Your Baby (or Toddler) to Table Foods {Part 1}




Recently, I have been getting a lot of emails about how to transition your baby or toddler onto table foods. These questions usually come from parents that are struggling through the process with a baby (under 12 months old) or from parents that now have toddlers and are still stuck on baby foods.  I am going to try and address this post for both groups of parents, although with the latter, the approach may need to be tweaked and adjusted for your child.  As we saw with Milo in last week's post, his difficulty with transitioning to table foods was a red flag for sensory sensitivity.  

There is so much to cover here, I am breaking this post down into two.  In this post, I will cover when you should start introducing those table foods and how to begin the process.  In Part 2, I will discuss how to completely leave baby food behind and what your feeding schedule will probably look like around this age.
As a mom, each time I had to transition both my boys onto table foods I was frustrated and overwhelmed.  Hmm, maybe I shouldn't admit that, I am an OT, I know how to do this, right?  Well, yes I do, but it was still a challenging time as a mother.  (I have mentioned that I'm Type A, change is hard for me!) The little routine you had starts to shift, as they are also beginning to wean from breast or bottle and learn to drink from some type of cup.  As parents we worry, "Are they eating enough?". With jarred food you can really quantify how much they have eaten, but it gets a little blurry when half of the diced up food you give them is on the floor.  My point is, I have been there!  Okay, let's get going with the basics...

Getting Ready

A week or two before you begin to introduce solids, start to thicken their baby food.  Thicker foods require more movement of the tongue and muscles in the mouth, which helps lay a good foundation for moving a solid piece of food around in their mouth.

If you are making your own baby food (get the DIY here), then add less water or liquid when pureeing and be on stage 2 if you are using jarred food.  Some stage 3 type foods would be great as long as it doesn't have a mixed texture.  Many of the jarred variety have whole pieces of food mixed in with the puree, don't go there-- yet.  That is putting the cart before the horse.  For now, stick with smooth purees, gradually increasing their thickness.  You can also increase thickness by adding cereal or freshly pureed foods into jarred baby foods.

Also, begin to dramatically chew for your baby.  Show them how you put a small piece of food into your mouth using your hand and leave your mouth open so they can see what you're doing.  It may take finding the right moment to get their attention, but this will help peak their interest, as well as teach them what they should do when you hold that piece of food up to them for the first time.  

When to Get Started

Generally speaking, a good time to start for most babies is around 8-9 months.  However, it may be later for your child, especially if they were a preemie.  You will know they aren't quite ready if they refuse, gag, or cough a lot when you try.  That's okay, don't be discouraged, this just means you will need to take it slower and consistently offer safe foods they won't choke on.  

For other babies, it may be even earlier.  As an OT, I can't recommend starting earlier, but of course it is your choice if you feel they are ready.  It is likely that they will be mostly swallowing (not chewing) most of the food though.  

What the First Food Should Be



The best first table food to give your child is Gerber Puffs.  No, I am not getting any kickbacks for saying that!  I have tried a few other brands, but the texture of the Gerber variety is great for beginners. Puffs are perfect because they are hard and crunchy initially, which helps babies realize there is something in their mouth and how to keep track of it once it is in there.  Some people think to start soft with something like eggs or banana. Not bad logic, but because those foods are so soft, babies have a hard time feeling exactly where it is in their mouth.  The wonderful thing about puffs is that they dissolve in saliva in just a few seconds.  So, if your babe doesn't chew and just tries to swallow they aren't going to choke on it.  That is peace of mind.





Puffs are also great because they can be broken into really small pieces for those first attempts with nervous parents.  And, babies can pick them up easily!

Stick with these for a few days to a week, until you can see them munching up and down with their jaw.  Ideally, they should be feeding themselves the puffs, too, but don't let that be a deal breaker on moving forward.

Once they get the hang of puffs, try small pieces of other foods that dissolve really quickly.  Some examples are: Town House Crackers (not Ritz), Graham Crackers, Cheese Puffs, and Baby Mums Mums. I know these are not the healthiest of options, but in terms of safety and learning to chew they are the best.  If you aren't sure if something is safe, do a taste test yourself. How quickly does it dissolve compared to a puff?  How much do you need to chew it?

As your child manages these foods well, you can start with soft foods like bananas, noodles, cheese, breads, and overly cooked veggies in a cube shape.

Important Tips

  • Once you begin introducing table foods, offer one at each meal.  Then, slowly increase the variety of foods they are eating as they are managing more foods.
  • Continue to steadily increase the thickness of baby foods as you progress with table foods.  If you aren't making your own baby foods try pureeing what you are eating for dinner or mix this into the jarred baby food.  This will help get your child used to more textures and tastes.
  • Carefully monitor all new foods.  Some coughing and an occasional gag is normal.  If you are seeing this frequently, the texture you are giving them may be too difficult for them.  Wait a week or so before introducing it again and then proceed slowly. Discuss persistent gagging and choking with your doctor.

Part 2 of Transitioning Your Baby to Table will be coming at you in a few weeks!  Have any questions, I want to hear them?  If you need more inspiration for Table Food ideas, check out my Mega List and follow me on Pinterest for lots of cute presentation ideas!

Click here for Part 2 in this series.




46 comments:

  1. Should I wait until my baby gets teeth? He just turned 9 months and loves puffs but we are still waiting on teeth!

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    1. Oh my gosh Beth, no. Your question is so common, I think I need to write a post on it. It is a total misconception that they need teeth to eat. Sure if you were giving them a hunk of steak, but you are giving them soft, easy to eat foods. Plus, you would be surprised at how good their gums work. When teeth do come they are in the front, not the teeth they need to grind their food up. I know it is scary, follow the steps and check out part 2 in this series.

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  2. That's what I thought, but just needed a little extra courage! Thanks!

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  3. Quick question, with the town house crackers should I break them into small pieces or let her take bites from the whole cracker? I'm so afraid that she'll take too big of a bite and choke. My baby is 13 months and we're working on more crunchy foods

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  4. Yes Emily, break them up into pieces, as small as she can pick up at first. Then move to slightly bigger pieces as she is chewing well. Taking a bite is an important skill but it comes later on the continuum. Try that once she is eating fairly large pieces safely.

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  5. Gerber Puffs WERE her first solid food, and she did amazing with them.

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  6. I am so happy I found your blog! I'm working with my 9 month old now on making the transition. He seems interested, but the problem is he hasn't really developed his pincer grasp yet. I've given him large pieces of graham cracker and cheese sticks that he enjoys chewing on and has been pretty successful with (I watch him closely), but puffs and diced steamed veggies remain a big challenge because he can't pick them up. Should I wait it out or give him larger pieces of food that he can pick up and get into his mouth?

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    1. Hi Melissa, is your little guy picking up the puffs with his whole hand or does he not attempt to pick them up at all? If you can demonstrate or put your hand on top of his and show him how- the latter is a little more tricky with their tiny hands. If you feel like he is chewing the larger pieces well, then I would say it is okay, if you are watching closely. But, I would always be encouraging him to pick up the smaller pieces. You can also feed him some of the bites and let him to try and feed some himself to cut down on his frustration. It sounds like he is doing great with the table foods, I wouldn't want you to back off from that. I hope that helps!

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  7. My son just turn 1 year old and most of his food are thick purees(I would say is Stage 3 food). I tried cut the carrot into very small piece, 2mm size, and also steamed minced pork, he tried to chew and eat, but after a while, he vomit out the food. I was so scared and stop giving him these food, and back to thick puree again. After a week I try again and he still vomit a bit. Is my method wrong? Sometimes I find the carrot still a bit hard (I steamed for about 20 minutes), so I'm not sure is it because I choose the wrong table food (carrot)? Anyway, he can eat banana or papaya chunk perfectly.
    By the way, I'm a working mom and my mother-in-law(mil) is helping me to take care of my son when I'm at work. Therefore I always prepare the food in batch (blend and freeze). Since I need to transit his food to table food, I shouldn't blend and freeze them right? Can I cut the raw vege in cube size and freeze it? And steam the frozen chunk food before each meal? I know some nutrition may lost but it's better than I cut part of the vege and keep the rest in fridge for next few meals right?

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    1. I would try and stick to the steps I described in this post and part 2. Go for really soft foods or ones that melt easily at first, it sounds like he isn't chewing the food enough. The carrot is fine, but keep it really soft. It is totally fine to freeze ahead, you don't lose that many nutrients. By the way, if you are in the states you could look into free early intervention services that your state is required to provide. They will come to you or your mil's house to help get him on table foods. Let me know if you need more help with this!

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  8. I was googling how to transition and what foods to start with and I have found your site! It's awesome! I just want to thank you for this, as a first time mom I NEED this info - Thanks so much!

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    1. Aww, that's awesome Sandy! Thank you so much, your little one is lucky to have such a proactive Momma!

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  9. Oh, thank goodness I found this. I have my Master's in Nutrition and I feel like we glossed over how to introduce solids to babies. It's hard since each baby is different. This is really helpful. Thank you so, so much

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    1. Thank you so much Amanda for your comment! I'm glad you found it helpful!

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  10. What do you consider as an ongoing gagging or coughing issue? My daughter is approaching one and is still on the looser stage 2 food, although she does eat the gerber puffs. She gags on the thicker stage 2 foods. What type of early intervention services were you referring to in response to a previous poster? Thanks so much for sharing this information.

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    1. Also, I forgot to mention that she had reflux and took medicine for it. I still wonder if she still has issues with reflux lately. Do you know if reflux has any bearing or impact on a babies ability to handle solid foods? Thanks again!

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    2. Unfortunately, Robbie I would consider that to be an ongoing issue and have her evaluated. Gagging on stage 2 baby food is not typical, although as I therapist I see it often. As for refulx it could definitely have affected her ability to want to eat and have a sensitive gag reflex. However, solid foods stay down better than formula or milk so it shouldn't be causing more reflux. Each state is required to provide free in home therapy services to children under 3. If you google your state and the word early intervention you should be able to find a number to call. You don't even need a doctor, just call and let them know your concerns. If you need help please let me know!

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  11. Hi there. thanks for the advice. Writing to u from south Africa. I look after my 13mnth old granddaughter. needed a refresher course as my youngest is now 24yrs old LOL

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    1. Yay! That's awesome so glad you found your way here! Hope it helped!

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  12. Am really happy for all your advice Aisha but am really having difficult time here more than anyone else. My baby is 20 months. Some days back she had constipation i had to rush her to the children hospital. It wasn't funny at all. Didn't get home till 3:30am. Aisha my baby has been feeding on baby food since she was 15 months till now. Thou i have started giving her solids but can't sometimes think of what to give her. When i give her noodles with veges she vomits the veg but i didn't get tired. i kept on trying and she finished everything for the first time today. But confused at what other things to give her aside noddles, rice or potatoes, because i think they are all carb. i want a balanced diet for her though she is picky eater, eat slowly and sometimes won't eat all till she is very hungry. HELP HELP HELP, what do i do.

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    1. Hello Alimat- I am so sorry that you are having such a hard time, truly! I have worked with many families in similar situation so I understand. There could be a variety of underlying issues going on that are making it difficult for your daughter to eat. I don't know what part of the world you are in, but I would look into a feeding evaluation by a specialist if possible. I am also available for online consults. In the mean time, I would suggest starting to make your own baby food and gradually turn this into the foods you are eating in your house but a re pureeing in a blender or food processor. There are so many foods that you can put in a blender and they will come out with a smooth texture. I would try to increase the thickness overtime and give her other table foods that are natural purees like applesauce, mashed potatoes, etc. I would also give her small cubes sized pieces of fruits and veggies that are cooked really well. Keep your mouth open when you chew to show her what it looks like. Still follow the steps in this article and the next- it will just take more time. It sounds like she doesn't know how to chew. I hope this helps a little- let me know if I can be of any more help.

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  13. Also she doesn't like anything crunchy, she always like everything smooth so how do i migrate from the smooth baby food to the normal adult food.

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  14. Hi Alisha, Firstly, thanks so much for all your hardwork in putting this info online for people.

    Secondly, I have a 12mth old son who has only been on solids regularly for a few months. Due to food protein induced allergic colitis, reacting to food proteins in my milk and when we tried foods in his diet. His primary nutrition is still breastmilk but now he is tolerating 3 types of food,buckwheat, swedes and chicken, trying pear again next.

    He is eating thick purees now and seems to do well, he did gag when I tried a fork mash swede, there were a few lumps. A lot of info I read says to offer well steamed vegies in sticks big enough to grasp with some sticking out of his hand to chew. I worry if I do that he would stuff the whole piece in his mouth!

    He can do pincer grasp and I give him bits of buckwheat to pick up off his tray and he seems to do fine. A buckwheat seed is so small I doubt he really chews it much. I can't do puffs as he can't tolerate the ingredients in most processed food.

    Your advice to offer small cubes, no lumpy purees, definitely seems logical to me. But as I said I have read, plus advice from my Mum, to go with stick size. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Plus I am very nervy of choking, what are the approx measurements of the cubes you do.

    Sorry for the length! Thanks from Australia

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    1. Hello Danika!

      Yes, please continue with the diced cube. Your instincts are correct about the stick shape, once he is handling cube shape then move to that with close supervision. Avoid the lumpy purees until he is eating a variety of textures and chewing well! Let me know how it goes!

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  15. Thanks Alisha. He has been enjoying cubes of homemade buckwheat bread that crumbles very easily. I tried swede and he gagged a lot, scary, I guess he is not great at chewing yet!

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    1. I'm not familiar with swede, I know you limited, but try to stick to either meltable crunchy foods that require very little chewing and will dissolve with saliva or soft cubes like cooked veggies and fruits. Avocado and banana work well for this too:)

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  16. Thanks Alisha. Swede or rutubaga looks like a turnip and is cooked like potato. Steamed, mashed, roasted etc. So yes it was soft. I wish he could have meltable puffs like non-allergic kids. We tried banana and avocado early on but he reacted to them.

    We will keep at it. I have ordered some 100% puffed buckwheat seeds so fingers crossed they will be suitable. The closest to meltable we can get, in addition to the crumbly abuckwheat bread I make

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  17. Thank you Alisha for your post! Although my daughter eats puffs & melts, and seems to not have a problem with gripping or picking up food, I cant get her to bring it to her mouth. She'l automaticallyl put toys to her mouth, but not food. She's two weeks from turning 1, (9 months gestational) Any other tricks I should try?

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    1. If you can dip her hand into a baby food or pureed food and have her get it to her mouth, even if you have to put your hand on top of hers and move it towards her mouth. This will help her get the idea between hand, mouth, and eating. Keep trying and really keep that gestational age in mind:)

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  18. This is a great site. My son is tired of the pureed stuff. I've started finger foods (meat, cheese, toast, puffs, mashed potatoes, etc.--I really don't care about the mess so long as my son gets enough to eat), but he seems to play around with it. I feel like most of it is in his lap or on the floor. When you say start out with puffs, do you mean at every meal? So you'd cut out all pureed food and then only give formula/breastmilk and puffs? I was concerned about all the food groups, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to give one meal with puffs, then the rest with pureed food and formula/breastmilk.

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    1. Oh no... just do puffs with the baby food, put a couple on their tray while you feed him. Feel free to feed him. If he is already eating other foods then don't worry about the puffs. If he isn't eating any baby food then yes give him a variety of food groups.

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  19. This article is so great! I could not even get any good info from the pediatrician. My son is 9 months old and has been eating solids since he was 6 months old. He eats mashed sweet potatoes and squash with no problems. Are there other foods that I should give him that are thicker or should he be ready to try minced veggies? I have just started giving puffs. He gets them in his mouth on his own but he does gag some. I have been very intimidated to start the transition but I don't want to wait too long. Thank you very much for the information.

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    1. Check out Part 2 and the Mega list that I linked to at the end of this post- you will find more specifics there. I would encourage you to be bold and let him try things in small pieces. All kinds of veggies that are cooked to soft would work, things like carrots, cooked apple, cooked pear, mango, potato, celery, etc. Good Luck!

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  20. Hi,
    My daughter is 10 months old. She eats puffs like a champ- picks them up with a pincer grasp, puts them in her mouth by herself and eats them no issue at all. But any other soft solid I give her, whether I spoon feed her or put them on her tray, she gags, coughs, and sometimes spits them out. She's tried eggs, avocado, shredded cheese, tiny pieces of pancake, boiled carrots and broccoli (both mashed). I wish I had seen your blog before this morning because now I am going to backtrack and go in the order you suggest. But should I be concerned that she does so well with puffs but not with anything else? She's now at the point where she's coughing and gagging on her purees (stage 2 & 3), so I'm wondering if this is just becoming a habit and she's being a bit dramatic about eating... I just feel like I'm at a total loss!
    Thanks in advance for your help!

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    1. I should also mention that my daughter has been on reflux medication since she was 2 months old, although her reflux is much much better now!

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    2. Yes, go back and read, go through the textures in the order I talked about. Really focus on crunchy foods that melt easily and stay away from stage 3 foods that have chunks in them, everything should be smooth. See the article index for a post: Early Intervention Services, in case you need more help. Let me know if she doesn't make any progress with the crunch foods.

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  21. My son is 10 months old. He will only eat baby food jars, yogurt, Cheerios, and Gerber finger foods. If I offer anything else to him (small pieces of meat, or fruits) he gags the second it touches his month and projectile vomits. He does the same with stage 3 jars. I worry about his protein intake.

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    1. ***He will only eat fruits and veggies in stage 2 Gerber. He does okay with the stage 2 meat/veggie mixes like Turkey Sweet Potato mix. But it 100 percent puree, no chunks. Anything with chucks, he throws up or gags. I try to offer homemade baby food, but that always has some skin or seeds, it just is not as smooth as the Gerber brand. Is this normal? I know you can't compare, but other children at his daycare eat lunch meat and cheeses. It makes me feel as if I am doing something wrong. Maybe I am pushing solids too soon?

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    2. Hi Pamela! As I mentioned in the article, avoid any mixed textures until he is eating a variety of table foods. I would however make his baby food thicker- see this article and part 2 for specifics. Even if you are adding mashed banana and other smooth things to store bought food. He should be ready to move forward and gagging is a red flag BUT he is really young, so you both have some time to figure this out. Keep trying, following these guides closely. Also, try to let him mouth stick shaped foods like carrots and celery in very large pieces that he can't get all the way into his mouth. It will help him decrease his gag reflex and he will practice chewing.

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  22. Wow, this was really helpful and I wish I had read it sooner! My pediatrician asked me how finger foods were going at my son's 9 month check-up, and I panicked because I had not attempted any! Just homemade thicker purees. After that, I think I felt we were very behind, so I may have then rushed him into it. I tried scrambled egg, tiny banana chunks, and cottage cheese, all of which made him gag like crazy and even vomit. I shouldn't say I am glad to know other babies have this problem, but I at least feel that this is more normal after reading the other comments. Since he was born a little early and also had TEF (he had surgery on his throat right after birth), I decided to just slow it down. I started adding either ground beef or quinoa to his purees to get him used to the texture and giving him Gerber puffs to get him used to feeding himself, and he is progressing really well now! I also have your mega table foods list bookmarked-- thank you!

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    1. Hi, I'm so glad you found your way here! Follow the steps closely and take your time. Keep in touch and let me know if you are having any other trouble.

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  23. Hi. I followed your advice and my son is a champ at eating solids. He eats puffs, mum mums, cooked carrot, grated apples, pieces of chicken etc. No problems gagging or choking. He is going to be 11 months old. I normally give him his food in small chunks so he just pops it in his mouth. I wanted to be able to hive him sticks of food like toast or sticks of cooked carrot but I am concerned he will put too much in his mouth at once. I gave him 1/2 of a mum mum and he shoved the whole thing in (he did not have any problems eating it). Is there a process to transition him to larger pieces that he needs to bite smaller pieces off of? Also, I still give him some purees with his finger foods, is that okay?

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    1. Some kids need some help with the stick shapes. Tell him "bite" and intervene by pulling the rest out of his mouth. You may need to put your hand under his jaw and help his close his mouth. Also, demonstrate by taking your own bites dramatically in front of him. Remember, it is a transition so it is okay to give him cube sized pieces. Baby food is okay to, but remember within the next month or two it should be done unless you run into some problems. Glad it is going so well!

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  24. Good morning Alisha, my daughter is almost 12 months old. She's been on stage 2 Gerber foods for several months now and we just started trying the stage 3 foods. For about 6 weeks, we've been trying to get her to eat Puffs. As the Puff sits on her tongue, she gags on it. We offer a few every day to see if she will get over this, but so far, we've had no luck. Do you have any advice on what we should do? Her daycare keeps asking if she is eating Puffs or Cheerios yet so I feel like she is behind the curve on what she should be eating.

    I appreciate any advice. Thank you!

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    1. Hi Valerie, this is really tricky- there are a variety of reasons she could be having difficulty. First, make sure you break the puffs in half, forget cheerios, and place them on her back gums where she will show- demonstrate with your mouth open to show her. I would also consider getting a free feeding eval if you are in the states. See the article index and look under Help for Toddlers: Ealy Intervention. Let me know if you need more help. I'm also available for consults but there is no pressure at all, we could get into more specifics there.

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