When your baby won’t eat solids it can be stressful. Learn why your baby is refusing food and how to get them to eat solid foods with 7 simple steps!
The spoon hits the floor. A nasty face is made, maybe your baby even shutters or gags. All this from a bite, or an attempt to feed your baby solid foods. It’s totally unexpected when our babies respond with such disdain for baby food or table food. As parents, we’re often excited about this new milestone and it can be pretty shocking when our baby won’t eat solids. In real life though, it’s quite common for babies to gag on solids, seem uninterested, and outright refuse food.
While knowing its “normal” for babies to not seem interested in solid foods, even though everyone else’s baby seems to be gulping it down by the jar full, it still leaves the question, “How do you get a baby to eat solids?” Well, I happen to know a thing or two about that. First, because I’ve personally helped a lot of families get their babies eating solids as a pediatric occupational therapist with over a decade of experience, but also because I’ve been there with my own son…
Going through it as a mom was a whole different ball game. Of course, I knew that it was normal for babies to refuse baby food when it was first introduced, and I also knew that some babies didn’t much prefer baby food, but my Momma heart was worried. The worrying got worse when I watched my son act like he could’ve cared less about the delicious homemade sweet potatoes that I whipped up, as he turned his face away and threw the spoon across the room.
Meal after meal.
Day after day.
And, week after week.
With each passing day that he refused to eat solids, I got more worried, and more frustrated as I’d watch the food I’d prepared literally go down the drain. There came a point when I knew I needed to do more, to put some of my OT skills to use in my home, and that’s what I’m going to share with you here, because I know how stressful it is when your sweet adorable little baby won’t eat solids.
By the end of this guide you’ll know :
- Why your baby is refusing solids
- Why they used to eat solids but don’t anymore
- How to get them to eat solids and table foods
- Ways to get them more help (if you need it)
*Keep a look out for the free printable at the end too, if you’re baby is struggling with table foods!
Why Your Baby Won’t Eat Solids
There are a lot of factors that can actually play a role in any baby’s refusal to eat solid food. We’re gonna walk through each of them below, but know that the reason your baby isn’t eating solids could be any one or combination of them. With a little detective work, you’ll figure it out! Also, age has a little do with it, and will help you zone in on what’s going on.
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6 or 7 Month Olds that Refuse Solids:
- “I just need a little more time.” 4-6 months of age is the perfect time to introduce baby to solid foods, but sometimes the baby isn’t ready. Actually, this is really common when the baby is closer to 4 and 5 months old, but is still totally normal at 6 months of age. Babies are still learning how to move their tongue and bring toys to their mouth, which helps them get used to having foreign objects in there. Each baby is unique and yours may just need some practice if they are in this age range. Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for introducing food and make sure your baby is ready for solids. You can also find my guide to Introducing Solids with more details on milestones to look for when 6 months old.
- A strong tongue thrust reflex – Most babies usually lose this reflex that helps them not choke if something accidentally gets into their mouth around 4-6 months, but it may linger for some. If you notice that your baby still thrusts their tongue out every time you touch the spoon to their lips, they may need a little more time. It’s really hard for them to eat when they keep shoving their tongue out of their mouth!
- Doesn’t like the way food feels – Solid food is something so new and unfamiliar to babies, it can take a while for them to get used to the new texture in their mouth. Many babies do in fact get used to the feeling of solids, but some don’t. Read more about that below under sensory.
8, 9, or 10 month Olds that Refuse Solids:
- Sensory – By 8 months of age, most babies are ready from a developmental standpoint, and at this age its definitely time to get the ball rolling, but some babies (like my son) still refuse. One of the most common reasons why older babies still won’t eat solids is because they don’t like the texture.
This boils down to the way their brains are thinking about (or processing) the sensory input they feel (aka the food in their mouth). This isn’t a bad thing and doesn’t necessarily mean they have any kind of diagnosis, but it does mean we need to take some extra steps to help them tolerate the texture of food better. You can head to sensory issues with food to learn more. Babies that are sensitive to different textures usually gag immediately at the sight, touch, or taste of food.
- Coordination – Eating actually requires a lot of muscle coordination from opening the mouth, pulling food off of a spoon, closing the mouth, and effectively swallowing. We take this for granted and don’t even think about it, but for some babies it just isn’t coming natural.
Babies that are having difficulty with coordination, or oral motor skills (find exercises with that link) as feeding therapists say, usually gag when trying to swallow or after getting the food into their mouth. Or, the food may fall out frequently, and babies won’t eat solids because they just don’t know how. When they don’t know how to eat, it isn’t that fun, and there isn’t a lot of interest.
If gagging is something you’re concerned about or is happening often read more in guide on baby gagging.
- Not into baby food – While this is probably the least likely reason your baby is refusing solids, it is possible. If you’ve consistently offered baby food with no interest from your baby and you don’t see any of the sensory or coordination signs we talked about above, then you might just might want to move on to table and finger foods. One way to do that is using a Baby Led Weaning approach, before you do that though read my BLW pros and cons.
Why Baby Won’t Eat Solids Anymore (They Used to?)
- Some teething babies won’t eat – While it’s not as common, some babies start off eating baby food and then suddenly stop. A frequent cause of this is teething, and some babies teethe for a very. long. time. If your babies teeth are swollen, red, and seem to hurt, then this is likely the cause. Try putting some teething gel on their gums 15-20 minutes before a meal. If you see an improvement, this is likely the culprit. Here’s a natural teething gel I like.
- Going through a phase – Babies may get a little bug or slight cold that we aren’t even aware of or have some negative experience with food that seemed too minor to us as the parent, but makes them leery of eating. If it’s the latter, some sensory sensitivities can develop if a baby goes for a while without eating any food. If this is the case for your baby, you’ll want to follow the steps below and focus on not pressuring your baby to eat. It’s really important that mealtimes are a positive experience.
- They’ve outgrown baby food – If your baby is later in their 7th month or older, they may just be sick of solid baby food and ready for the real deal table and finger foods. I know that seems scary and makes some parents nervous. Don’t worry though, if you think this is why your baby suddenly won’t eat solids anymore, then head to how to transition to table foods.
How to Get Your Baby to Eat Solids
1. The absolute first thing I do with a baby not eating solids is to put a scoop of baby food or some other pureed food like yogurt onto the tray of their high chair. I know, the mess. It’s soooo important for babies to get messy though! If you’re skeptical you’ve got to read: Why Babies Should Get Messy Eating. It will totally change your perspective and give you the inspiration to embrace the mess.
2. Encourage your baby to touch the food, but don’t force. Be silly and keep it light. Demonstrate. If they refuse, try and try again. In fact, at every single meal, put a dollop of that food on their tray or even in a bowl that they can play with and touch. If they won’t touch after a few attempts, offer a spoon for them to stick into the food too. This is one of my favorite beginner spoons that makes it really easy for baby to get some food onto it.
3. Once your child touches the solid food, you’re on your way! Allow them to touch, spread, and put it all over the tray and themselves. This is wonderful for their sensory processing and will make a huge difference in helping them get used to the texture of solids. If they get upset once they’ve touched the food, or that they are now all messy, be very calm and reassuring. Have a wet washcloth ready and quickly wipe them down. And, if this is how they respond, it’s a sign that you need to practice playing with these foods a lot! The more they touch and interact with the food the closer they’ll be to eating it.
4. When baby has the food on their hand and they’re at least tolerating it, show them how to take their hand to their mouth so they can taste it. You may need to demonstrate if baby won’t let you guide their hand. Repeat this several times. After they eat from their hands several times, offer them some solid foods from a spoon.
5. You can also give them a large whole raw carrot or celery stalk at meals. I mean the whole darn thing. The point isn’t for them eat it (and if they can get pieces of it off take it away), but for them to put it into their mouth. When they do this, it helps desensitize their gag reflex and they get to practice biting, chewing, and moving their tongue around. It’s amazingly powerful and can make a big impact in a baby accepting solid foods. Make sure you demonstrate and keep offering at every meal.
6. Be consistent and patient. I can’t stress this enough, even though its often easier said than done! Have regular meals and follow the above steps 1-3 times a day for every meal. You can find sample schedules for babies ages 6 – 7 months, 8 – 10 month, and 11 -14 months if you’d like a guideline to follow.
7. Focus on meals being positive experiences for the baby, even if they aren’t eating anything. As parents, we can bring a lot of stress with us to meals, which can be hard to hide. But, this is definitely a “fake it to you make it” kind of situation. Take a deep breath, put on a happy face and work on the above steps. Going into the meal with no expectations of them eating anything will also help keep your frustration level down.
Strategies to Use Outside of Meals for Baby’s Refusing Solids
There are a few really powerful strategies you can use away from the highchair that will directly impact your baby eating solids during meals. Might seem strange, but if you suspect your baby is refusing because of sensory or coordination difficulties, doing these activities can be total game changers:
- Brush their teeth – If you haven’t started yet, brush their teeth, and when you do make sure you’re getting all over their gums and the sides, as well as the top of their tongue. It only takes a few seconds, but it helps to both desensitize their mouth and improve coordination because the tongue gets practice moving in different directions. If you’re baby doesn’t like it, take it slow, and try often. The more often you brush the bigger the effect. Try for one to three times a day, and consider a vibrating toothbrush (yes, even for babies) for more powerful input in their mouth.
- Play in sensory bins – That may be a new term to you or you might be wondering what the heck that has to do with eating, but playing in different textures is super powerful and helps the sensory system understand different textures better. This correlates directly to eating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a kiddo that plays in sensory bins frequently, suddenly start eating more foods (my son included). Head to Sensory Bin Ideas to learn how to set one up.
- Chew on toys – So many babies that won’t eat solids never put toys or teethers in their mouth, which is really easy to overlook. If this is your baby, pull out a bunch of different teethers and have them around the house. Demonstrate. Dip them in food or juice. Play with them in the bath. The more often they get teethers and toys into their mouths the more it will help improve the coordination their mouth muscles need to eat and desensitize their gag reflex and sensory system. I really love this teether because it gets in the back of the mouth and this one vibrates (all my friends get it from me at their baby shower).
Help for the Baby Not Eating Food
I’m not just talking about solid baby food or purees. You may have a baby that won’t eat any type of food, like puffs, cut up fruit, or toast. They’re getting older and older. You’re getting worried. Remember, I’ve been in your shoes. I get it!
Following the above steps will be incredibly important for your babies too, especially the strategies for outside of a meal. But, you’ll also want to use the steps I outline in getting your baby to eat table foods. That’s a whole different animal all within itself, and there are some targeting tips that can make all the difference in your baby eating food.
While I don’t want you to worry, I know its tempting to keep waiting it out, and unfortunately, some doctors advise this quite often. Babies instinctively learn to chew between roughly 8 and 11 months of age, when they move past that, it can be much harder for them to accept foods. It’s not impossible, and the same steps apply for older children, but it’s much better to be proactive then taking a “wait and see” approach.
When to Get More Help for a Baby Not Eating Solids
If your baby doesn’t like solid baby food and won’t accept any table foods of finger foods by 9 months old, it’s a good idea to get an evaluation either from the free early intervention program in your state or from a feeding therapist. You can also read more about typical feeding milestones for babies just to have a reference point. As I said earlier, all babies develop at a different pace and needing a little more help is very common.
Get My Free Printable: Learn to Eat Table Foods Cheat Sheet
There seem to be more questions than answers when you’re under the daily stress of your baby or toddler not eating table foods. Not to mention all of the well-intentioned bad advice that’s often given. Let’s clear that up. I’ve created a free 5 page guide that clearly lists the steps to teach your baby or toddler to eat table or finger foods, plus a FAQ guide for parents to ease their worries when they’re babies won’t eat!
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.