For the past 15 years, I have been working with families teaching them how to feed their children in one facet or another. My very first job, right out of college was working for WIC (Women, Infants and Children). I gave my nutrition advice based on other WIC nutritionist and a brochure published by the state health department. Now, I’m not saying the advice was wrong, but all these years later, I have to admit, it wasn’t the best advice. It wasn’t until I took my first pediatric dietitian position, that I finally realized how unique every child is, in their eating and growth.
Each child eats different amounts to support their unique body. Each child grows at their own pace and predictably when they are given the autonomy to do so.
Supporting your infant in feeding the first year comes down to these 4 Steps:
1. Feed on Demand
Infants need to be fed on demand via breast or bottle for the first year. Allow your child to take the lead the entire first year and throw the schedules out the door. Infants will develop their own psudo schedules, but as soon as you think you have learned their eating schedule it will change again. Growth spurts will bring on more night feedings or frequent day feedings and it’s important that you just roll with it. When an infant in the midst of a growth spurt they will feed more often and/or large quantities and, not as much when the spurt is over.
2. Do NOT Restrict or Force
Unfortunately, we live in a society obsessed with weight. It doesn’t matter if your child in chubby or skinny, everyone will feel the need to comment. I’ve seen parent’s of “chubby” babies water down formula or withhold feedings. I’ve seen parents of “skinny” babies try to keep forcing them to eat. Trying to manipulate your infants eating to change their growth pattern will not go well. In fact, interfering at such a young age will teach stress with food and set a child up for picky eating, food aversions, and/or overeating later in life. It’s a true story, I’ve seen it!
3. Do NOT Start Food (via a spoon or fingers) Until Developmentally Ready
There has been quite a bit of controversy today about feeding our children their first foods. I’ve heard Rice Cereal be called “rice mush” or “no nutritional value.” As a parent, it’s your privilege to choose your child’s first food. Whether you choose cereal on a spoon or mashed avocado, it all comes down to…Are they developmentally ready? Children are developmentally ready when they can sit up, head unsupported and open their mouth for the food. I chose rice cereal due to my concern for food allergies and at the ripe young age of 4.5 months my daughter took the spoon right out of my hand and shoved it in…I guess she was ready! If you start to soon it will be stressful and if you wait too long you could have feeding issues. Listen, I am a HUGE breastfeeding advocate (I exclusively breastfed my own daughter until 14 months), but feeding table foods does not interfere with your breastfeeding relationship, unless you let it. It is essential that you allow them to developmentally progress.
4. Feed as Much or as Little as They Want
Allow your child to take the lead with feeding solid foods. Feed them until they are full. They are full when they stop looking at you and the food, close their mouth and won’t open, or turn their face away. Stop when the are done, no matter if they have had only one bite or 3 bowls full. It’s CAN be that simple!
Feeding children for me is the most rewarding experience. I loved watching my daughter progress from cereals, to finger foods, to table foods and eventually to everything my husband and I are eating. I was the lucky one, my professional training prepared me for this day. As a new parent, you may have been less than prepared and feeling anxious or stressed with the feeding situation. If I can give you the best piece of advice…learn to trust your infant. Allow them to have a supportive feeding environment and then sit back an them explore food! Don’t forget to have fun in the process!