Before babies learn to talk, parents must rely upon visual cues to know what their child is thinking. Now, infant psychologists believe they have cracked the code for interpreting babies faces as they begin eating while being weaned off milk.
Researchers found that parents should not mistake specific reactions as a dislike for certain foods. When babies purse their lips and squint, they are simply reacting to sour food. It is not necessarily a sign of dislike. Also, a look of surprise or concern does not mean the child is rejecting the food. They are simply intrigued by a new flavor.
Other signs like when babies squint or lower their face shouldn’t discourage parents since when babies really dislike food, they will simply turn their face away completely. Dr. Caspar Addyman, a developmental psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, compiled the Nine Faces of Weaning guide with Piccolo, an organic baby food company.
“If a baby is really unhappy, you will know about it," he said.
Dr. Addyman says that learning to interpret your baby’s feeding time expressions shouldn’t be any more traumatic than learning to interpret your baby’s signs of sleepiness, hunger or happiness. Rather, pàrents should see the introduction of foods to a child for the first time as a chance to get to know your baby better and understand what a furrowed brow, wrinkled nose or gaping mouth might mean.
Sweet and savory flavors usually elicit mostly positive reactions from weaning babies since those flavors are also present in breast milk. The guide warns that if parents only appease their child’s positive reactions, it could limit their openness to new flavors in the future.
Alice Fotheringham, an infant nutritional expert at Piccolo, says: “Naturally most parents hate seeing their child distressed so there is a tendency to give up on a new food if your baby pulls what you might perceive to be an unhappy face.”
She adds though that it can take up to twelve tries before a baby gets used to a new food, therefore understanding how to read their expressions can be valuable in helping parents persist in order to ensure that their baby is getting a variety of foods and all the necessary nutrients.
Research has shown that British parents are more impatient and less diligent than other European parents when it comes to introducing their babies to new foods. A survey from the European Toddler Nutrition Index in 2013 revealed that 26 percent of children under the age of five in the UK were permitted to refuse a meal at least once a day compared to 15 percent in France and Germany.