When It Comes To Food Choices, Perhaps Your Baby Knows Best

When It Comes To Food Choices, Perhaps Your Baby Knows Best

Infants have the ability to select a good diet by themselves if they are given the chance. Evidence for this is from a famous nutritional study with 3 seven to nine-month old babies who had been fed nothing but breast milk. The babies were offered a wide variety of wholesome, unrefined foods to choose from at each meal for a period of six months. They were not fed anything unless they indicated in some way that they wanted a particular food.

Furthermore, nobody encouraged, praised, or reprimanded them for eating or not eating. In fact, the topic of food was never brought up during mealtimes. All of the babies chose a well-balanced diet, and none of them became too fat or too thin. One baby, who had poor bone structure (rickets), drank cod liver oil many times of his own free will until his bones were healthy and normal. All three babies went on food "binges." They would eat huge quantities of only one food for several days and then taper off. This did not cause any regurgitation, discomfort, diarrhea, or constipation, and none of the babies developed allergies.

Some parents think that they should use nutritional knowledge based on scientific research as a guide to feeding their baby. Even though they themselves may have problems eating correctly, they think that at least they can give their baby a good start in life by making sure she gets the correct vitamins and a sufficient number of protein grams each day. This is certainly a praiseworthy attitude, but unfortunately the parents are bound to run into problems.

This is because scientific research is based on averages. It can determine what the average 14-month-old needs to eat on an average day. Such research, however, says nothing about what little Susie needs to eat on any given day. This depends on how much exercise she has had, how much stress she is under, whether her brain or her bones are undergoing a growth spurt, or whether she has been exposed to the flu. All of those factors and many more can have a profound effect on her nutritional requirements.

There is considerable individual variability in nutritional needs, some of which is genetic. Some adults, for example, need much more calcium than others, and many people have allergies or intolerances to certain foods. It is important to have some knowledge of nutrition, because this can guide you in selecting a wholesome and well-rounded diet for your baby. (No baby will develop well on a diet consisting only of spaghetti, bread, and potatoes, no matter how much choice she is given among those three foods.) But the usefulness of such knowledge goes no further than that, because the only person who knows what and how much the baby needs to eat on any given day is your baby herself.

The study mentioned above shows that this assumption also applies to nutrition, so don't be afraid to give your baby plenty of autonomy in deciding what she wants to eat. When you first start to offer soft foods to your baby, you can hold the spoon in front of her so she can see what is on it and decide whether she wants to eat it or not. If she wants it, she will probably open her mouth and perhaps even grab the spoon or your arm in an attempt to bring the food closer to her mouth. If she does not want the food, she will probably not open her mouth or make an attempt to bring the food closer, and she may even push it away or turn her head aside.

You can then try another food. A different method is to set out several foods simultaneously in front of your baby, and to let her reach for what she wants. Some parents skip the spoon-feeding stage entirely, and begin by offering foods that their babies can grab by themselves and put in their mouths. You can put pieces of soft food on your baby's high chair tray and let her feed herself. Either approach can work very well. If you use spoon-feeding, try to let your baby be an active participant from the start, encouraging her to feed herself as soon as possible, so she can become fully autonomous.

Letting your baby feed herself will be messier than if you feed her, but your baby will become more self-sufficient. It is not necessary to supply your baby with an entire cafeteria of foods at every meal, but it may be a good idea to have at least one food available from each of the major food groups. If you offer a wide variety of wholesome foods over a period of time, your baby will have ample opportunity to choose an adequate diet.

If your baby eats ravenously of one particular food, you can continue offering that food every day (along with other foods), until she has had her fill of it. Babies may have high physiological requirements for one particular nutrient for a while, because of growth spurts in various parts of their body, or because of illness. It is probably best not to combine foods, in case your baby wants only one of the foods in the mixture and not the others. Some babies refuse mixtures, but will eat each food served separately. Most babies go on food binges, and it is usually nothing to worry about.



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