Ask: Are baby food pouches a good idea?

Joan Comrie is a feeding specialist with Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in Raleigh.
Joan Comrie is a feeding specialist with Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in Raleigh.

Q. I love the new baby food pouches for my 6-month-old daughter; they are convenient, no spoons, no mess, it’s easy. Is it OK to just hand the pouch over to my daughter and let her suck out the food?

A. Most things in moderation will likely not cause too much of a problem. However, there are some unintended negative consequences if pouches are used exclusively in lieu of good old-fashioned spoon feeding.

In our “on the go” society, let’s face it, our lives move too fast for most families. Add on top of that the stressors that working parents and single parents face. Too often baby food pouches are replacing spoon feeding. Because of the convenience and the reduced messiness as compared to spoon feeding, parents are handing baby food in pouches to their baby. What could possibly be wrong with this?

Unfortunately, there are many negative consequences of the over-reliance of baby food pouches and the resulting limited exposure to spoon feeding. These include:

  • families no longer cook for their kids
  • limited exposure to “real foods” 
  • missed opportunity to modify texture, flavor and consistency 
  • lost social, emotional and developmental benefits of family meals.

The most concerning consequence of sucking puree from baby food pouches instead of using a spoon is that children miss the critical learning opportunity that spoon feeding provides. Correct tongue patterns are developed during spoon feeding. These tongue patterns are the foundation of the patterns required during chewing. If spoon feeding is replaced by sucking puree out of pouches, children do not receive the necessary input to the tongue. The tongue patterns necessary to swallow baby food puree are progressively refined and strengthened to enable children to develop the skill set required for mature chewing patterns, those necessary for chewing fruits, vegetables and meats.

Children just cannot transition from breast/bottle feeding and “sucking” out of pouches to chewing and swallowing table foods safely. The result is an unintentional epidemic of picky eaters; picky by texture with a strong preference to crunchy snack foods and highly processed foods due to the inability to adequately chew and swallow safely “real foods.”

Here are ways to minimize negative consequences of baby food pouches:

  • Use pouches in moderation or not at all.
  • Use the spoon more often.
  • Engage in family meals at home, not in the car.
  • Puree table foods whenever possible.

This will ensure that you are providing the best nutrition and are supporting your child’s feeding development through modeling healthy eating patterns and engaging in family meals.

Joan Dietrich Comrie of Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia  (919-877-9800) has dedicated her entire career to studying, teaching and practicing in the area of dysphagia, specifically pediatric dysphagia. She received her bachelor of science degree and then her master of science degree in the area of speech pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986. Before starting Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in 1996, she worked at several hospitals (Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington, Ky., Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., and WakeMed, Raleigh) where she developed or reorganized the hospital's pediatric dysphagia program.

Joan has spoken on the topic of pediatric dysphagia nationally and internationally. She has published in a professional journal.  She co-taught the first dysphagia course offered at UNC and continues to guest lecture to several university graduate level speech pathology programs and to the UNC Medical Students who complete their rotation at WakeMed. She has served as chairman and member of a subcommittee of the Special Interest Division 13 of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She has received her certificate of clinical competence (CCC) through ASHA and is licensed in the state of North Carolina.