How to Make Baby's Mealtime Easier
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From the beginning, try to offer your baby a degree of independence when feeding him. Letting your baby feed himself (or at least take part in feedings) not only gives him a degree of independence, it's also a great way to improve his hand-eye coordination and overall manual dexterity. The food that makes it all the way into your baby's mouth and then down to his stomach serves as a positive reward for your baby's efforts to coordinate hand, eye, and mouth.
If you use a baby seat that hooks onto the top of a table, make sure to lock it securely in place before seating your baby in it. Though she may look somewhat precarious hanging in midair in this kind of seat, resist the temptation to put a chair under the seat to shorten any potential fall. By thrusting her powerful legs on the chair, your baby may pop the baby seat loose.
Of course, you can't just plop your baby's food down on the tray or table in front of him and expect him to feed himself. But while continuing to do the bulk of feeding, you can still offer your new eater his own spoon (in addition to the one with which you feed him), his own cup, and at least samples of his own food on the tray or table. That way, your baby can squeeze and squirt the food between his fingers and (who knows?) once in a while even bring some of it up to his mouth.
Of course, you should never force your baby to participate in feeding himself, but you probably won't need to convince him. If you give him foods he likes and the tools and the opportunities he needs, he'll be more than happy to help feed himself. Be sure to allow extra time at mealtimes, because it will take a while for him to learn how to feed himself. Try not to get impatient with him. If your baby is having trouble manipulating his spoon, for example, he's probably frustrated enough without adding your frustration into the mix, too.
Given enough opportunities and encouragement, your baby will probably be able to feed himself a lot by the eighth or ninth month, but you'll need to give him a little leeway. Your baby will use whatever means are necessary (a cup, a spoon, his hands, or a few licks directly off the tray) to get food into his mouth, and you should let him do it. Don't worry about your baby's atrocious table manners; etiquette lessons can come later. For now, just concentrate on making eating solid foods and drinking from a cup as enjoyable as possible.
Table for One
When your baby can sit up with support for a reasonable amount of time (say, 5 to 10 minutes), you will probably want to start feeding her in a high chair or a baby seat that hooks onto the top of the kitchen or dining-room table. For safety reasons, your baby's high chair should have a wide, stable base and come equipped with a safety belt (including a crotch strap to prevent her from sliding down under the tray). A wide-rimmed, removable tray will catch most major spills and be relatively easy to clean.
There's an immediate and very practical reason to give your baby her own spoon even though she doesn't know how to use it yet. If she's holding onto her own spoon, then she won't be reaching for yours as much, and you will be able to feed her with far fewer interruptions.
For safety's sake, make sure to lock the high chair in the open position before you sit your baby in it. Then place the high chair in the middle of the kitchen or dining room or with its back against a wall. Keep it a safe distance away from anything (a table, a counter, or a wall, for instance) that your baby might kick her feet against. With the power in her thrusting legs, she could easily propel herself backward with enough force to knock the high chair over. Finally, make sure to strap your baby in securely and supervise her at all times. (It will help if you set up in advance so that you'll have everything you might need at hand before you strap your baby in the high chair.)
Your baby will enjoy having her very own spoon, even if she uses it for everything but its intended purpose. Your baby may bang it, wave it, put it in her mouth (whether her mouth is full or empty), and bite it. Though she probably won't use it to feed herself for several months, she'll never discover how to use a spoon properly if you don't give her one.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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