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 these times to connect as a family and set positive habits around food and eating together.
The newborn's rooting, sucking, and crying reflexes are communications that signal hunger. Parents are naturally primed to pay close attending to infants, but not all of baby's signals are easy to interpret. The more parents learn to identify and meet their baby's needs, the more the baby learns that its communications are effective. This is the foundation of a healthy relationship that parents can build on over time.
Although older children are better able to feed themselves and 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 is Healthiest for Baby and Mom
- 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 naturally comforting for babies and meets a baby's sucking needs
- Feeding is one of the primary ways a primary caregiver begins to build a healthy relationship with baby.
- Model bottle feeding on breastfeeding behaviors:
- 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 instead of schedules
- Pacifiers satisfy a baby's sucking need.
- Associate the bottle and pacifier with being held and having undivided attention
- 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 - expect a mess and stop feeding them when they're done - don't expect that they will eat much or "finish" after eating a certain amount
- Milk - breast or formula - will remain 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