The nuk brush significantly reduced my toddler son's gagging and throwing up from food. Read about why our occupational therapist recommended the nuk brush and how to use the nuk brush to stop gagging during meal times.
My son, who is two years old, had eating issues for most of his life. When he was three months old he stopped drinking as much breast milk as he should be, and it just never got better. He lost weight and dropped from the 50% percentile to below 1%. (Read about our struggles with weight gain.)
Starting solid food was a slow process as well because my son gagged and spit out food for a long time.
When he was about 1 year old and was finally regularly eating purees and a few table foods, such as pasta and rice, he would often gag and throw up everything he ate. It happened mostly when we switched textures or foods during a meal, but would sometimes just happen when he was eating super smooth pureed baby food.
My son definitely had some texture and sensory issues combined with oral motor issues and a super sensitive gag reflex.
The vomiting happened at least once a week, and as often as several times a week when it was at its worst. Needless to say, it was super stressful and sad, and probably made my son's relationship with food even worse.
It was so sad to see all the food that he ate and so desperately needed in his little body come up and out. He looked so confused and scared, and the clean up and constant baths and laundry were tiring as well.
So I did a lot of reading online about how to help my son get through this and saw that the nuk brush and the z-vibe were often recommended products. It was also right around the same time we started with the Mealtime Works online class for picky eating and Alisha highly recommended the nuk brush to us.
Our feeding therapist also praised us for using it when we started feeding therapy for picky eating a few months later.
What is a nuk brush?
The nuk brush is a toothbrush-like teether with a nubby textured silicone "brush" at the end. It helps to "wake up" the mouth and increase oral awareness. It is used in speech therapy and feeding therapy to help with oral motor skills and to de-sensitize the gag reflex.
As a bonus, the nuk brush can be used as a teether and a "first spoon" for your baby. Its texture helps grab baby food purees so babies can bring it to their mouths instead of attempting to use a spoon and having everything slide off the spoon by the time they get to their mouths.
What is a z-vibe?
Since we're talking about oral stimulators, I wanted to mention the other popular one used in occupational therapy: The z-vibe, made by ARK Therapeutic. It is an oral stimulator that vibrates. The Z-vibe is a bit more expensive than the nuk brush, and it provides a stronger sensory input because of the vibration. This can be too much for some babies, but some kids love and seek out that type of sensory input and find that the z-vibe tickles in a pleasant way.
We chose the nuk brush
We decided to give the nuk brush a try because it is significantly cheaper than the z-vibe, plus we already had a vibrating toothbrush for my son. You can definitely give both a try, or try getting a nuk brush and a vibrating toothbrush (such as this one) for your kid just to see how they would react to the vibration before you spend money on the z-vibe.
Why you should use a nuk brush
You should definitely speak with your pediatrician or an occupational therapist instead of just reading blogs online 😉 but from speaking with our occupational therapist, we learned that my son is an excellent candidate for using the nuk brush. Here are the reasons you might want to use a nuk brush:
- Your child never put things in their mouth. When my son was a baby and a young toddler, he never really put things in his mouth. I thought it was GREAT! I didn't have to worry about him eating the cat food or random pebbles he found outside. I didn't have to worry about slimy saliva-covered toys or hands. He barely even used teethers when he was teething. Turns out that's not such a good thing for baby's development. Putting things in their mouths is important because it allows babies to get used to all kinds of textures in their mouths (important for avoiding picky eating!) and also desensitizes the gag reflex (super important for eating!). So if your baby has never put anything in their mouths, you can help them with the nuk brush (more on how to do that later!)
- Your child gags a lot while eating. Some gagging is normal. It can even be a good thing because it teaches your baby or toddler when they have too much food in their mouth, or when they got food too close to their throat while chewing. But constant gagging to the point that your child doesn't enjoy eating might be a bad thing. Talk to a professional to see how much gagging is normal. They might want to see your kid eating to evaluate them in person, or might want to watch a video of your child chewing and eating.
- Your child vomits while eating because of the gagging. This is definitely stressful and signalizes that your child's gag reflex is too sensitive.
- Your child has a hard time starting to eat and doesn't always want to put food in their mouth. In this case the nuk brush can be used right before eating or even during a meal to "wake up" your child's mouth and senses and make your child more open to putting food in their mouth.
- Your child needs to build up their oral motor muscles. This is something that a doctor or an OT can help you determine. The nuk brush can be used as a small strength training tool for the muscles in your child's mouth. This will help him or her mouth get stronger for chewing and maneuvering the food around in their mouth.
If you suspect that your child might benefit from the nuk brush because of any of the reasons above, then there's no harm in trying it. A nuk brush is just a texturized silicone teether, it's just that there are ways you can use it to provide other benefits for your child.
By the way, if you think your child can benefit from sensory play to help with their eating, check out 52 weeks of Sensory. It’s a year's worth of sensory activities I created with a focus on picky eaters. Join me for lots of fun sensory play! Learn more.
That said, make sure you don't skip getting professional help for your child if you think they need it. A nuk brush is something you can start with on your own at home, but it might not be the answer to all your gagging or picky eating problems.
How to use the nuk brush
There are many "procotols" and instructions online for how to use the nuk brush to stimulate the gums, lips, inside of cheeks and tongue, and how to use it for oral motor strength exercise.
Here is a good video on how to use the nuk brush. This video uses a tool from Ark Therapeutics, but the idea is the same:
The whole thing should take just a minute or two. It is recommended that this is done several times a day, preferably right before a meal to "wake up" the muscles. You can even place the nuk brush on the table with you and use it during a meal if your child is not receptive to eating while he or she is in the high chair.
You can also use it to strengthen your child's oral muscles by having them bite down on the nuk brush.
A few tips about using the nuk brush:
Of course, nothing is as easy with a toddler as it is supposed to be. Babies and toddlers don't often cooperate just because you have a plan of using the nuk brush several times a day.
Our son never let us do all of this. He had (and still has) oral aversion and doesn't like things being brought to his mouth. Brushing his teeth is a struggle. However, he loves using the nuk brush on his own when he is in control!
We got the nuk brush when he was about 15 months old and we pretended like it was the MOST. FUN. THING. EVER! before we let him play with it. I put it in my mouth and laughed and giggled and pretended to fight with my husband over who gets to use it. So my son was super excited to get to play with it when we finally "let" him.
Just having the nuk brush in his mouth several times a day was a huge help. At first he sometimes gagged from it simply being in his mouth, which showed us how sensitive his gag reflex was.
When he lets us, we pretend to try to pull the nuk brush out of his mouth so he would have to bite down hard to keep us from stealing it. This strengthens his biting muscles and he thinks it's a lot of fun.
Once in a while, our son would let us brush the inside of his cheeks with the nuk brush. The best way to do this is to sit with him in front of a mirror with him sitting in my lap. I hug him from behind, gently hold his face with one hand and put the nuk brush in his mouth with the other hand. The sensory input of being held by me and feeling safe in my arms usually gives me a few seconds of being able to use the nuk brush to brush the inside of his cheeks.
And after about a month of consistent use several times a day, my son's gagging during eating decreased significantly.
We saw huge progress. The gagging stopped. The throwing up was significantly reduced. We also noticed that when he had too much food in his mouth, or when food touched the back of his throat in a funny way, he was able to maneuver the food around his mouth and spit it out, instead of throwing up immediately like he used to in the past.
I truly believe it was all thanks to the nuk brush, and I am so glad we found out about it.
At less than $10 each, trying the nuk brush is a no-brainer to help your child wake up the oral muscles, build some oral strength, and desensitize the gag reflex to prevent annoying gagging or awful vomiting during eating.
You might also be interested in these posts:
- 52 Weeks of Sensory - a year's worth of sensory activities developed with picky eaters in mind!
- How to Make High Calorie Baby Food - the most popular post on the blog.
- Feeding Therapy for Picky Eating - it's been a HUGE help for us! Read all about our experience and see if this could help your child.
- When to test Your Baby for Food Allergies - we've had to test our son for food allergies twice before he turned two, so I wanted to share everything we learned from our pediatricians.
- How I got my son to eat his FIRST vegetable - it wasn't the typical peas, squash, or avocado 🙂
- Hidden Vegetable Recipes for Toddlers - if you can't get your kid to eat vegetables, at least you can add some nutrition by hiding vegetables in their favorite toddler foods.
Let me know what you think! Have you used the nuk brush? Do you think your child would benefit from trying the nuk brush? Leave me a comment and let me know!