Dear Is This Normal,

My 15 month old daughter has taken up the WORST habit of spitting during feeding times. She spits almost everything out, literally right onto my face! I’ll have to go through 3-4 different foods until she gets to one she likes and will stop the horrid spitting. I have no idea how to get her to stop. I think it’s more behavioral than anything, but I don’t know the appropriate way to discipline it as I’m afraid that she won’t eat if I don’t offer her a million options until she gets one she likes or wants. Feeding has always been such a struggle for us and I have no idea how to navigate this! Any help is appreciated!! 

Signed, 
Please Stop Spitting!

Dear Stop Spitting,

UGH. Toddlers, amirite?! Listen, I love toddlers. Well, I love other people’s toddlers, I should say. No amount of money in the whole world would get me to go down THAT particular road again, no ma’am. But there is no human on the planet as funny, sweet, infuriating, and brutally honest as a toddler. We used to call my youngest the Sourpatch Kid, because she was equal parts sour and sweet and it was sort of a crapshoot what you were going to get on any given day. BUT, that being said, I’m not entirely convinced that what you’re dealing with should be chalked up to typical toddler behavior. Pull up a seat, let’s talk food, and see if we can’t get to the bottom of your toddler spitting out her food.

So, babies are born with certain reflexes, like the ability to suck. You put a nipple in their mouth, they (usually) know exactly what to do with it, although it may take some work to perfect it. But once they start eating solid foods, they have to literally learn how to eat. Their gag reflex has to relax, and their thrust reflex has to calm down. For some babies, this happens easily around 4-6 months of age. For other babies, it can be a months-long process. You mention that feeding has always been a struggle, so you probably understand that in more ways than you care to!

But here’s the thing: babies don’t magically start eating well when they become toddlers. Sometimes, feeding issues can follow little ones into the toddler years. Add to that the totally developmentally-normal habit of refusing new foods and/or textures, and it can become a real cluster. 

I don’t think your little girl is spitting out food because she wants to drive you mad. I think she may be responding to tastes or textures that she either doesn’t like (yet) or feel unfamiliar in her mouth. You have to remember, to a toddler, unfamiliar equals bad or dangerous. 

She may not be able to chew the food, or she may not think she can swallow it. Or she just flat-out does not like it, which is also a very likely possibility. It sounds like it’s just new or unfamiliar foods and textures she’s spitting out, because she chews and eats foods she likes just fine. So I’m guessing we have a case of food refusal here. Luckily, with some patience, you can move past this! But notice how I said … patience. 

Toddlers will eat dirt and food they find in their car seat, so it’s sort of wild they won’t eat, like, peas. But whaddaya gonna do, you know? It can take kids as many as 10-15 tries of a food before they actually decide, “Hey! This isn’t so bad!”. And I don’t mean 10-15 bites in one meal – I mean 10-15 different occasions of trying a food. So, ya gotta do what you gotta do – just keep offering her new foods and textures. Cut their food into very small bites, and offer the new food or texture first. Give her a chance to taste it, get a good mouthfeel, and if she spits it out, don’t react! Just move on to the next food. She clearly has some foods she likes, so include those in her meals so you know she’s getting enough to eat. 

But at every meal, offer one new food for every fav food on her plate. Keep offering her the same foods over and over again (remember, small bites, as she still might have some feeding issues that depend on her stage of development). After you’ve tried a certain food 10-15 times, and she still refuses it, just move on. Don’t discipline her, don’t get frustrated. There are SO many foods she can try, and I promise you, she will start to like some of them. 

She’s not spitting the food out because she’s misbehaving: she’s doing it because she doesn’t like it right now or isn’t able to handle it just yet. That’s fine and so totally normal. The hardest part is being patient and not losing it when meal time becomes a battle, I know. But believe me when I say this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toddler behaviors we could really do without. 

Not Looking for a Food Fight,
Is This Normal

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