Feeding your baby is a team sport that involves all members of the family. Everyone has a unique role to play and all of those roles are equally important. Success is usually more dependent on how well the team members communicate with each other and work together than on following a strict set of rules. However, understanding some simple truths about infant feeding will help you build your winning team.
Here are four tips for getting your child to grow up eating a healthy diet:
1. Know that feeding skills develop in a predictable pattern: Healthy babies born at term can suck and swallow effectively from birth, developing a critical skill set important for healthy feeding throughout the first year of their lives. These skills – including sitting, putting items in their mouths, and language – develop in a predictable order, and at a fairly predictable time. They cannot be taught or learned: Your baby will acquire them when he or she is developmentally ready.
2. Parents and caregivers can support feeding skills as they emerge, and providing your baby with chances to practise and perfect new skills will improve their ability and confidence. Offering chunks of food to a baby who does not yet have chewing skills will not teach chewing, but failing to offer lumpy foods to a baby who is ready will make it more difficult for that child to manage those textures later on, when the time has come for transitioning to managing chunkier solids.
3. Don’t forget to ask your baby! If you want to know what your baby should eat, then ask. Babies tend to know their needs best. As babies get older (six months and beyond), scheduled meals and snacks (consisting of healthy food choices) are appropriate. That said, the choice of whether or not to eat, and how much to eat, should still be up to the baby.
4. Communication is essential to successful feeding. With time and practise, most parents come to recognize when their babies want to eat. It’s incredibly satisfying for both parents and their children when hunger cues are picked up on and feeding results in a satisfied, contented baby. Although it’s usually pretty easy to tell when a baby doesn’t want to eat, parents often keep trying if they’re worried that the baby hasn’t eaten enough, or won’t settle. The result is a frustrated parent trying to feed a resistant baby, and everyone coming away with the feeling that mealtimes are unpleasant. Responding to your baby’s cues – both positive and negative – makes your child an equal partner on the team, with control over his or her own feeding.
Your baby’s feeding habits will change constantly over his or her first year of life. As babies develop new skills, parents learn to provide new tastes and textures and a diet that includes a wide variety of healthy foods. And as babies learn to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, parents learn to smile and enjoy their own dinner again.