Parents often mistake a baby’s reactions to food as a sign that the child doesn’t like the food. While this is sometimes the case, more often than not, it’s something else. Here are some common things babies do when tasting new foods:
1. Shuddering or Shivering
Why they do it: We don’t know exactly why this happens, but, as feeding therapists who have seen thousands of babies eat, we can tell you it’s common and generally benign. We have some theories as to why it happens. Baby has been eating one food (two at most if they have human milk and formula) every day for 4-6 months and then suddenly they are introduced to a wide variety of new flavors, textures, and temperatures. All of that new sensory input might overwhelm their still-developing nervous system and cause a shiver or a shudder. It also seems to happen when certain flavors cause baby to have increased saliva flow—similar to when an adult bites into a lemon; for babies, this seems to happen with foods we might not consider tart, like watermelon or yogurt.
2. Smashing the food instead of eating it
Why they do it: At this young age, babies have just recently become aware of how to reach for and grab and manipulate items with their hands and are excited to use those skills. They are learning as they go about what to expect from different objects, like what happens when it’s squeezed; if it’s easy to smash; or is hard or soft? Squeezing and smashing the food helps answer those questions. They also might not realize that food can be explored in their mouth so they start with their hands. Even babies who know that food can and should go in the mouth may feel more comfortable exploring with their hands first, which helps prepare them for what it might feel like in their mouth when they take a bite.
3. Spitting food out
Why they do it: Babies are really new to the skill of chewing and swallowing food. They’ve spent the past 6 months drinking their meals. Chewing may seem simple to us, but it’s a complex skill that requires coordinated movements and a good idea of what’s happening inside your mouth (sensory awareness) without being able to see what’s going on. Until a baby has mastered some basic skills they have reflexes and motor patterns in place that help them push unchewed or not fully broken apart food back out of the mouth so it does not get swallowed.
While it may look like baby doesn’t like that food, it’s much more likely that their sensory receptors and reflexes are just kicking in to push that food back out of their mouth because baby can’t figure out how to fully chew it or move the food all the way back to the throat after chewing it to swallow.
Read more about why babies spit out food here.
4. Making faces
Why they do it: Babies are still getting used to the new and exciting world of food which is filled with flavors and textures. As baby explores they make all kinds of funny faces that may look like they are not enjoying the experience. But because we’ve seen so many different babies make a “yuck” face but then go right on eating and exploring, we know that these faces should not be taken too seriously. Remember: babies often will try to eat anything they can get their hands on—including the dog’s toys, our dirty shoes, and all the rocks, leaves, and dirt. If babies can tolerate those flavors, it’s likely they can tolerate the sardines or the berries or whatever it is they were exploring when they made a funny face.
5. Banging on the table or tray
Why they do it: Babies are all about hands-on learning and they love to experiment with sound and touch. Around 6 months, they are hitting their stride with using their hands more purposefully and love banging things and throwing them. It’s just one more way to explore the food and enjoy time at the table.
6. Dropping food or windshield wiping food off the table
Why they do it: While throwing, dropping, and wiping food off the table can be a sign that the baby is “all done,” it’s also important to keep in mind that self-feeding is a challenging new task. Food can be slippery and oddly shaped and is not as easy as it seems to hold on to. Babies often accidentally drop food but they may just as frequently drop or “windshield wiper” food off their tray because they are frustrated with how challenging it is to pick up. Some babies even do it automatically because they are still learning what can be done with the food and, before they think to put it in their mouth, their excited hands decide to throw the food.
Read more about dropping or throwing food here.
Why they do it: Just about all babies gag as they are learning to eat solids. Gagging is an important reflex and largely outside of a baby’s control. They gag because an object or food item has touched a part of their mouth (the middle back roof of the mouth or the middle back part of the tongue, usually) and their brain responds with that protective closing of the airway, rhythmic squeezing of the throat, and pushing of the tongue forward, keeping the item away from the airway and protecting against choking. Gagging in a toddler, older child, or adult may mean that the food is repulsive but in a baby, it’s just another tool to help them protect their airway as they develop chewing skills.
Read more about gagging here.