I love introducing food to my (then) 5 month old. I love seeing him smack his lips and try to grab food before it’s even in front of his mouth. Baby’s are super explorers and everything in their environment will play with their senses. Baby’s have a natural instinct to put EVERYTHING in their mouth. So hand them a cucumber or carrot (not boiled) and let them explore the taste and texture.
Too often I see mothers complaining that their child does not like food. This always comes to the problem rooting in the behaviours of the mother – NOT THE CHILD. Impatience while dealing with babies who love exploring with food is teaching our kids to not develop a love for eating. You have to have the patience to allow your child to play with food, and make a mess. This is where we build trust with them, spend precious moments and let them develop the art of feeding oneself.
Here are my rules of feeding the baby. I noticed and noted my own patterns and I think it may help you too.
- SHOW THEM WHAT THEY ARE EATING
This is first and foremost. Instead of forcing food into their mouth while they are distracted, show him the spoon / bottle. Bring it close to the mouth and wait for him to open his mouth. Gently, food the food inside and let him move it around, he may even spit it out – which is ok! Tasting food is delighting to the senses. He may or may not like the taste at first. First foods are not meant to fill the belly, but rather allow the gut to start processing whole foods; and let baby learn to swallow food – which is different to have milk. Show your baby the food, make eye to eye contact, this establishes trust.
- DO NOT FORCE FEED
This is absolutely important. Do not shove a spoon of food in his mouth. How would you like that being done to you few times a day? You would hate it and end up hating food too. This is a true test of patience for the mother. No matter what the age of your baby is. Force feeding is setting up troubles for the future. Having a healthy relationship with food starts by having feelings of welcoming food into the mouth, not by having it force fed.
- DO NOT DISTRACT BABY WITH SCREENS OR TOYS DURING FEEDING
I can not stress enough how important this point is. With modern times, we have many modern habits that are damaging to the development of the child’s brain and personality. Screens are unfortunately, one of them. Yes, as a mother feeding and making sure his tummy is full is the first priority. Playing video while feeding may help you finish the food in the bowl, but it is also dampening the childs senses. He is not paying attention to the food and enjoying it, rather swallowing it like a zombie.
It is important to understand effects of screen time on the brain, particularly during stages of dynamic brain development in early childhood. Hunger and satiation is a feeling regulated by hormones. Keeping an eye on the screen is not allowing or teaching your child to listen to his body.
Children who spent the most time on electronic devices or watching TV, were more likely to have lower expressive language, as found by lead author John Hutton, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Scientists believe screen time fails to stimulate the brain in the same way as reading books and can reduce sleep – which is essential for a child’s development.
Dr Hutton said: “This study raises questions as to whether at least some aspects of screen-based media use in early childhood may provide sub-optimal stimulation during this rapid, formative state of brain development.”
The researchers found kids hooked on screens had less white matter – the part of the brain that enables communication between neurons.This can impair brain organisation and the formation of myelin – a protective sheath around nerves that allows impulse to move quickly.
- LET THEM PLAY
Playing with food allows for the child’s senses of exploring to develop. He is still learning where his mouth is, to aim food in the mouth and practice using proper portions. Gagging and spitting out is part of this process of learning. According to a new study out of the University of Iowa, kids who smoosh, smash and even throw their food are actually learning as they play with their meals. The study also suggests that these messy eaters may be better and faster learners in the long run. Published in the journal Developmental Science, the study looked at how a group of 72 toddlers learned to identify nonsolid objects like oatmeal, applesauce and milk. The researchers found that the children who, quite literally, got their hands dirty playing and messing with each substance tended to learn words associated with these goopy items more quickly than those who didn’t. Playing with food allows kids become less picky with food.
- TALK TO THE BABY
Do you speak to you baby in full sentences? Ask questions? Smile and interact? These are very important even at the earliest age of few months. This goes hand in hand with not allowing any screens. Speak about the food, and let the baby interact with you and the food. I like to give my son with a spoon of his own to play around with. I love talking about food too.
Lastly, let your baby watch you eat. Yes this may be hectic but it is so worth it. Let your child see you eat, enjoy food and love eating. This is super important in helping him love food too. We love food ourselves. This majorly due to allowing ourselves to explore different foods and try new things. Your baby is not different. Let your little scientist explore the world around them. Food is such a big part of life. He should enjoy every little chance he gets.