What to feed a teething baby

Many babies begin teething around the same time that they begin eating their first foods - anywhere between 6 months and their first birthday will likely see the first tooth pop through. Typically this starts with the front top and bottom teeth (central incisors), followed by the lateral incisors right next door. After that usually come the first set of molars molars (10-14 months), canine teeth (usually 1-2 years), and then molars again (2-3 years). So, it’s a long journey for your little one - and may sometimes feel like a long one for you too!

As with everything, all babies follow their own developmental path. Some are toothy well before 6 months, some after they turn one. Some experience great discomfort and some are relatively unphased by it all! 


Signs & symptoms of teething

The symptoms very widely from baby to baby. You may even find your little one shows a different symptom for every tooth that comes through! 

  • THE DROOL. So much drool. This is where soft bandana-style bibs come in handy. Wee man would often soak the front of his shirt with dribble without them - we would change them up to six times a day at one point! 

  • GRIZZLY BEHAVIOUR AND POOR SLEEP. Your sweet little baby may become very irritable during daytime and - to the pain of parents everywhere - throughout the night. They feel unsettled and uncomfortable, and they let you know about it. 

  • ROSY CHEEKS. Baby may look red and flushed, on one or both sides of their face. The rosy area may be warmer than the rest of their face. 

  • SORE GUMS. Baby’s gums may get quite sore, and if you peep inside their mouth you may even see a reddened, irritated area where the tooth is coming through. 

  • NEED TO CHEW. Baby will want to gnaw on just about everything - from their fist to your car keys. Give them teething toys, access to a teething necklace, and/or foods which are hard enough to satisfy the urge but gentle on their sore gums. 

  • A LOW FEVER. Baby may have a slight fever from teething. Do check that this isn’t a symptom of another illness. 

  • NAPPY RASH. Parents often report that babies develop a nappy rash and a sore bottom around teething time, although some argue that this is unrelated to teething. This may be caused by lots of saliva working its way into their digestive systems and causing runny poos. Either way, checking nappies often to keep baby’s bottom dry and clean is your best defence! Metanium was a real hero for wee man during this time. He'd never had nappy rash until a molar was trying to make its way through!

  • LACK OF APPETITE. You may find your babe doesn’t have much interest in eating during heavy teething moments - and that’s ok. Keep offering foods gentle on their gums, and be sure to offer as much of mum’s milk (or formula) as they’d like, to provide them with nutrition while they are feeling poorly. Read on for some tips on what to feed during these times. 

Teething babies can be picky customers when it comes to food.

First, it’s important to keep offering food even if they are not feeling up to eating. Keep up with regular milk feeds on demand, and supplement with solids as you would normally do. If baby leaves the meal on the tray, that’s ok - try again at the next meal. You may even find if you offer up these treats, they may come to see meal time as a relief from some of the icky feelings of teething! 

Foods to offer: 

  • Cold foods: Think smoothies made with frozen fruits, cold yoghurt, cold hummus, etc. You could even freeze a banana on a stick and let baby gnaw on the cool fruit until they gum it into mush! The cool sensation can be a blessing for hot and bothered gums. 

  • Foods to suck: Sucking motions can give some temporary relief. We used to put cold chunks of watermelon flesh into a mesh feeder that wee man could suck on and it seemed to really help him. Rice cakes also went over a real treat as they would essentially dissolve in his mouth. We topped them with mashed avocado, hummus and other purees we had stashed in the freezer. 

  • Hard foods: Some babies get relief from applying pressure on their gums while eating. As with frozen foods above, you could also try making some home-made teething biscuits (avoid the store bought varieties as they often contain sugar). 

  • Soft, mushy foods: Some babies prefer not to chew or gnaw at all while teething. You could offer a pre-loaded spoon with a thick soup or puree that your baby can feed themselves, or go for softer foods like avocado slices which don’t require much chewing at all. 

What to avoid: 

  • If your baby has sore inflamed gums, citrus and other acidic foods can sting. 

  • You likely already avoid them, but take extra care not to offer salty or spicy foods as they may also cause irritation. 

Don’t stress

It can be tough to watch your little one in pain, but know that this stage - as with all others! - will indeed pass. Provide comfort, cuddles and encouragement and your baby will come through it with a beautiful toothy smile 😃  

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What food size and shape is best for baby?

If the goal of baby-led weaning is to let baby feed themselves, you need to prepare food that fits their developmental stage. It’s important to think about the size and shape of the food you’re offering, to make sure that baby can pick up, grasp and eat. When you begin weaning, baby’s motor skills are most often still at the grasp-everything-by-the-fist stage, so take that into account when you’re preparing their first foods. As baby develops their newfound grabbing skills into more precise pincer movements, you can transition the shape of foods on their plate. 

Remember that baby-led feeding is controlled by your baby - so don’t give into temptation to place the food into their mouth, or otherwise guide their feeding. Your role is to let them explore and develop at their own pace, and provide nutritious food shaped for their developmental stage...they’ll get the hang of it soon enough!


In the beginning: The full-fist grasp

One of the signs of readiness for weaning is that your little one has learned to grasp and pick up objects to bring them to their mouth - as they likely have with their toys, the tv remote, and your car keys! They do this with their full fists, and without much precise movement. We’ve all experienced our little ones grasping hold of hair or family pets and being seemingly unable to let go! 

When you’re preparing food think: if my baby wraps her fist around this piece of food, will she still be able to eat it? You want to have a portion of the food poking out the top of their fist (about 2 inches long should do the trick), otherwise you will end up with a frustrated baby! 

So to begin baby led weaning, start with over-sized chunks of food. Foods that are wedge or spear shaped work best. 

Food shapes to try in this early stage:

  • Foods with a natural ‘handle’ like a stalk of broccoli, corn cob, or a whole banana

  • Large strips or spears of fruits like avocado, ripe pear, ripe mango, or watermelon (seeds removed)

  • "Chunky chips” of roasted root veg, like sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash and parsnip

  • Small pasta shapes may prove a frustrating experience at this stage, so consider larger or textured pasta shapes that are easier to grip like cannelloni, penne or fusilli.  

  • Toast fingers (a liberal buttering softens it up nicely!)

  • Strips of (well-cooked) omelette with finely minced fillings like spinach, tomato, etc.

  • Lamb chops on a large bone

  • Strips of tender chicken breast

  • Porridge fingers

  • Food that is ‘clumpy’ can work well too - stodgy mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes (you could add cheese and veg to the mix), moistened quinoa, polenta or risotto are all great

Going pro: The pincer grasp

Between 8 and 12 months baby will begin to develop their pincer grasp, which helps them manipulate and pick up objects with between their thumb and index finger (or thumb and many fingers, when they begin). This fine motor control takes some practice to develop to full dexterity, so don’t expect an overnight transition! However you can begin to introduce smaller-sized foods in meals. While baby may not have much success in picking them up at first, they should have fun trying!

Food shapes best for pincer practice:

  • Peas

  • Corn kernels off the cob

  • Raisins

  • Grapes, cut into quarters

  • Diced veg, like cooked carrot

  • Sugar-free cereals

  • Grains like quinoa, rice, wheat berries or pearled spelt, for the more advanced!

You can also “pre-load” a spoon for baby with natural yoghurt or thick homemade soups to help them practice their cutlery prowess! This is also a great time to introduce a fork as baby learns to use their newfound hand skills.

Beware choking hazards

Always avoid the following choking hazards when you’re prepping first foods:

  • Skins, pits, seeds, nuts, small bones

  • Dried fruits are too difficult to chew (you could instead finely mince and add as an ingredient in meals)

  • Round hard foods, such as grapes, cherries, and tomatoes should be cut into quarters

  • Hard, crunchy foods which easily 'break' when eaten, e.g. raw apple, raw carrot

And always, always ensure eating is done in an upright position, and if you have a mobile baby, make sure eating is not done on the run! (Read more about baby led weaning safety)

What tips do you have to help baby handle foods with fists or fingers? Leave a comment! 

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The Magic List of Baby-Led Weaning Foods [INFOGRAPHIC]

Here's a handy baby-led weaning guide you can print and stick on the fridge to remind you of the best first foods to try with your little one, along with the foods to avoid. 

It's a biggie, so click to expand. And if you enjoy it, don't miss the printable version download below. 

Click to expand! [INFOGRAPHIC: The Magic List of Baby-Led Weaning Foods]

Click to expand! [INFOGRAPHIC: The Magic List of Baby-Led Weaning Foods]

Download & Stick on the Fridge!

Magic List of BLW Foods printable

Get your printable download of the Magic List of Baby-Led Weaning Foods - yours to stick on the fridge for when you need a little inspiration! 

 Learn the Basics of Introducing First Foods


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