Weaning An Infant With Disabilities

  • Post category:Blog
  • Post last modified:March 17, 2022
  • Reading time:5 mins read
Baby eating food on a chair
P.C. AMSW photography

Weaning is your infant’s first opportunity to be independent. But weaning can be tough for both disabled infants and their parents as up to 8 in 10 children with disabilities have a feeding disorder. Weaning should be encouraged in disabled tots, though, as it helps them to develop key skills and strengthen their bodies. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Try baby led weaning

Babies can start weaning from 6 months onwards. For years, a baby’s first taste of solid food pureed, but these have been described as “unnatural and unnecessary” by the Unicef experts. Disabled children may find it harder than most infants to accept pureed food due to their condition. This is why baby led weaning (BLW) should be tried instead. Giving your disabled child finger foods to try will help to build their gross motor skills and their oral motor skills. BLW puts the infant in full control of what they put in their mouth and this helps them to learn crucial reflex skills to stop them choking.

Keep practicing

The best thing you can do is give your child lots of time to practice eating. Some children with disabilities will take to weaning quickly, while others will take longer. For example, a child with osteogenesis imperfecta is likely to wean faster than a child with cerebral palsy. Some people wonder does cerebral palsy get worse with age, but it doesn’t. A child with cerebral palsy is likely to have relaxed floppy muscles or stiff, tight muscles, and this is why practice is needed. If lots of mess is made and very little food is eaten, keep persevering and you’ll be amazed at the results in the end.

Get the right equipment

The average baby can sit up on their own by 6 months of age. But an infant with a disability will sit up much later. For instance, a child with Down Syndrome may not sit unaided until they’re 16 months old. It’s important not to avoid weaning if your child can’t sit up on their own as this will delay this crucial part of their development. Invest in the appropriate equipment so your child can wean at the same age as most infants. A specialist feeding chair that tilts and fully supports your child will be needed. Pediatric eating aids can also be useful, such as curved utensils and flat bowled spoons.

Set the atmosphere

Studies have found that between 19 and 28% of children eat meals while watching TV. It’s not recommended for children to watch TV until they’re at least 18 months of age. However, in today’s world, that rarely happens. But don’t follow the trend of allowing your disabled tot to start their weaning journey in front of a screen. Screens are a distraction and will stop your baby from focusing on the food in front of them. The best environment for your child is a quiet room, free from distractions.

Always stay with your baby in case they choke or have trouble digesting the food, especially if they have a muscular disorder. Make sure you stay positive and show lots of happy reactions. Children with disabilities rely heavily on facial expressions and it’s important to use these as early as possible. Weaning is the ideal time to express positive facial expressions to help your child develop their understanding of eating.

Play with food

Men on a red T-shirt is feeding a baby on a high chair
p.c. Karolina Grabowska

Exploring different textures is a good way for disabled infants to develop their motor skills and cognitive recognition. Some disabilities, such as ASD, often result in children rejecting food due to its texture. Weaning is a great time for tots to explore food with their hands, as well as their mouths.

Even if they don’t eat any of it, they’re still learning about food and how it feels. This may increase the likelihood of them wanting to try eating it in the future. You can even encourage your tot to try foods by hiding items inside a toy or dipping their pacifier or washable toy into food like yogurt.

Eat together

Family mealtimes improve relationships, boost mental health, and help children to learn manners. One study focused on the benefits of family mealtimes for disabled children and found an association with eating together and positive social skills. It’s so important that you introduce the concept of eating together with your baby as soon as they start weaning. Not only will it help your baby’s development in the mentioned areas, but it will show them what to do and how to act around food. A child with motor disabilities may be reluctant to reach for an item of food placed in front of them. But when you have the same in front of you, reach out, and put the food in your mouth, your baby is likely to copy you.

Most disabled infants can wean at the standard age of 6 months, but it will often be a little trickier. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to provide the best support to your disabled child as they start their weaning journey.

Also read: Baby isn’t Babbling yet! what to do?

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