Does feeding your baby give you a nagging feeling that things aren’t going as well as planned? Might you be making some very common baby feeding mistakes? If your baby isn’t gaining weight as predicted or if you’re struggling with the spoon or washcloth, or transitioning to healthy food variety isn’t going as well as you had hoped, you might be unintentionally making these mistakes and potentially interfering with your infant’s eating.
Mistake # 1: Avoiding the Feeding Mess
In the quest to stay clean and tidy (and lessen the laundry load), you may be frequently swiping your baby’s mouth with a washcloth, sticking with spoon feeding, or avoiding messy foods to cut down on the clean up. What’s wrong with this? It robs your baby of important learning experiences. Serious investigation happens during meal times, and there’s no better way to learn about food than to get down and dirty with it.
Case in Point: I taught my client baby Cate’s mom to allow Cate to self-feed with a spoon, nix using the washcloth until the end, and offer more variety of food. Now, both mom and Cate are having a grand time with meals! I taught mom one secret: view the kitchen sink as a back-up tub, stocking it with towels, soap and plastic measuring spoons and cups so Cate could go from high chair to kitchen tub (with supervision of course) for clean up.
Mistake #2: Spoon-feeding for Too Long
This ties into #1 as a way to keep a cap on the mess. But also, there may be a misconception that babies need to be spoon-fed for a year. Not true. Babies can begin the shift to chopped, table foods at 8-9 months of age. By one year, baby should be on table food, self-feeding with assistance as necessary, and familiar with an open-top cup. Of course, follow your baby’s developmental progress and cues for readiness to see when the time is right.
Case in Point: Baby Ben was 14 months and still being spoon-fed. He came to me because he wasn’t gaining weight and his length had fallen behind. He was simply disinterested in the spoon—he wanted to feed himself, and he didn’t want mush—he wanted the real food his family was eating. While his mom was understandably afraid to give up spoon-feeding (because he wasn’t growing well and she wanted to assure his intake was good), once she introduced table foods and let him go to town with them, Ben started to thrive again.
Mistake #3: Offering Foods that are Too Healthy
I believe all babies should receive real, natural, unadulterated foods of all flavors, with an emphasis on food introduction and lots of food exposure. But I see a trend that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This can become a problem because babies have limited stomach capacity, and these foods are filling. They also tend to be low in fat, which is an important nutrient for babies. Certainly babies need these foods, but they also need meats (or non-meat substitutes), fortified cereal, healthy fats and dairy (or fortified non-dairy) sources.
Case in Point: Josh, at 13 months, was eating a high fiber diet, filled with whole grain breads, lots of vegetables and fruits, and very little added fat. In fact, his mom stated, “I never thought to add fat to his meals—I thought that would be unhealthy.” Josh’s diet appeared very healthy on paper, but in reality, it wasn’t meeting his nutritional needs. Again, an honest mistake was made. Once Josh’s mom understood that babies needed a good amount of fat daily and where and how to get it, she was able to plan more appropriate meals for him. The added benefit? Foods were tastier and he ate better. Mom opened up to more variety (French toast, pancakes, sandwiches, etc—all cut bite-sized) and Josh enjoyed eating again.
Mistake #4: Allowing Bites or Gulps of Adult Foods
Just a little sip of my coffee? Sure. A bite of my brownie? Why not! What’s the harm in a little sip of soda, a taste of coffee, or a bite of brownie? Nothing immediate. But over the long haul, you might find your little infant growing up to be a soda swigging, sweet tooth monster if you’re not careful. And we all know how hard it is to live with a monster…just sayin’.
It’s true—what we offer babies now influences their taste preferences later on. So, for sugary foods, I suggest holding out until age two (of course, the one year birthday cake is ok). You will curb preferences, and although they still may kick into high gear later on, you’ll be arming yourself and your baby with some early exposure to healthier fare. Also, remember those tummies are tiny, without much room to sacrifice nutrition for sweets.
I recommend holding off on caffeine too. Babies don’t need a stimulant (aren’t we mostly trying to calm them?), nor do toddlers or children for that matter. There’s no place for caffeine in a child’s diet—so if you can manage to avoid it, bravo.
Last, artificial sweeteners fall into this category too. Avoid them for all children, but especially for babies and young toddlers, even if “just one bite” seems harmless. The dose relative to body weight is considerable. I’ve searched and searched, and there’s no upside to offering them to children of any age.
I’ve covered the top 4 infant feeding mistakes that I could think of –-did I miss any? If so, what are they?