The following is a condensed version of this Principle. If you have questions about this Principle or how to apply it to your family situation, please contact an API Leader near you or post your comments and questions to API's forums.
Feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients; it is an act of love. Whether providing for the very intense hunger needs of a newborn, or serving meals at the family dinner table, parents can use feeding time as an opportunity to strengthen their bonds with their children.
The newborn's rooting, sucking, and crying reflexes evolved to ensure the close proximity of a mother or other caregiver that the baby can depend on to meet her intense needs. The more parents learn to identify and meet their baby's needs, the more securely attached the parent-child bond becomes. Although older children are better able to feed themselves and to communicate their needs, parents should continue to respect the child's hunger cues, offer healthy foods, model healthy eating habits, and make mealtimes a time for love and connection.
Breastfeeding and Attachment
- Breastfeeding satisfies an infant's nutritional and emotional needs better than any other method of infant feeding
- Feed on cue, before the stage of crying
- Breastfeeding continues to be normal and important nutritionally, immunologically, and emotionally beyond one year
- Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and baby
- Nursing is a valuable mothering tool to naturally comfort a baby
- "Comfort Nursing" meets a baby's sucking needs
- Feeding is one of the primary ways a mother can initiate a secure attachment relationship with her baby.
- Familiarize yourself with breastfeeding behaviors, and model them when bottle feeding:
- Hold the baby when bottle feeding, positioning the bottle alongside the breast
- Maintain eye contact, talk softly and lovingly
- Switch positions from one side to another
- Feed on cue and avoid schedules
- Consider reserving feeding for the mother only
- Pacifiers satisfy a baby's sucking need. Hold the baby or child in the feeding position when he uses the pacifier
- Associate the bottle and pacifier with being held and having undivided attention, so that it doesn't become a transitional object
- Wean from the bottle as one would wean from the breast
Nurturing Through Feeding
- Parents can nurture themselves when feeding a baby
- Mothers flourish when nurtured by their partners
- Fathers can develop a relationship with the baby in many other ways than feeding
- Introduce solids at signs of readiness, not based upon age
- Start slowly with foods that are not likely to cause allergens
- Offer breast or bottle first, followed by solids
- Follow the baby's cue on what and how much to eat; let him develop his tastes naturally
- Breast milk and/or artificial milk will be the primary nutrition source until about 1 year of age
Nurturing a Taste for Nutritious Food
- Model healthy eating habits
- Try to make at least one meal a day a time for connection and community
- Toddlers need to eat small meals during the day and should not be expected to sit at a dinner table for long periods of time
- Encourage a child to follow his bodily cues for hunger and thirst, to eat when he is hungry and stop when he is full.
- Forcing a child to eat, or to eat a certain food, is counterproductive and can lead to unhealthy eating habits and potentially eating disorders
- Avoid the use of food as a reward or punishment, or of making food (or dessert) contingent on behavior
- Rather than restricting access to certain foods, consider having only healthy options available in the home and allowing the child to choose
- Weaning begins the moment solid foods are introduced
- Food gradually takes the place of milk in terms of caloric need, but nursing continues to meet many other needs such as comfort and nurturing
- If a mother needs to wean before the child has displayed readiness, proceed gently