How to Make Baby's Mealtime Easier
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By around eight months, your baby will begin using her spoon to feed herself, though not very efficiently. At first, she'll just dip her spoon into some food and lick it off. But within a few weeks of this initial experiment, your baby will be dipping or scooping her spoon and then opening her mouth and putting the food in it, at least some of the time. Your baby may find it helpful if you fill one spoon with food and then trade it for the empty spoon in your baby's hand. This bit of help will greatly increase the efficiency with which she feeds herself.
Before giving your child a sipper cup at the dinner table (or high chair), you might want to first introduce it at bathtime. That way you won't have to worry about spills at all while she's getting used to drinking from it. At the table, try to indulge your baby's spills and messes without blaming her or groaning. It takes a while to master the skill of drinking from a cup, so she'll need all the patience and support you can muster.
When your baby does want to try to feed herself with a spoon, try to make it as easy as possible for her to succeed. The soupiness of jarred fruits and vegetables, for instance, make it very difficult for your baby to feed herself those foods. The puree will tend to run off the spoon and on to your baby's chin, chest, lap, or high chair. (To make jarred food easier to keep on the spoon and give your child a fighting chance to get the food in her mouth, mix a little baby cereal in with it.) Your baby will have much better luck if you offer her "sticky" foods such as oatmeal, mashed banana, mashed potatoes, and thicker homemade fruit or vegetable purees.
In addition to providing a special chair and her very own spoon, you might want to consider giving your infant her very own cup, too. Choose a plastic "sipper" cup, ideally with two handles, that has a weighted bottom and a secure lid on top. These last two features will make the cup "spillproof," at least in theory. (In actuality, your baby will probably find a way to spill almost any allegedly spillproof cup.) Sipper cups do provide a valuable transition between the breast or bottle and a regular cup. Most allow your baby to get the water, juice, or other liquid out of the cup and into her mouth through either sucking or drinking. (Your baby's talent at sucking also may make it easy to cultivate the skill of drinking with a straw at this early age.)
In introducing your baby to the art of drinking from a cup, start with very small amounts of water or diluted juice. Then, once you're sure she can handle drinking from a cup, you can fill the cup up more and more in the weeks to come. Let your baby control her drinking as much as she wants. If she shows no interest in or protests against drinking from a cup, then put it away and try again in two or three weeks. But if she does want to hold her cup, go ahead and let her.
You should sterilize the sipper top of your baby's training cup every day. A dishwasher generally uses hot enough water to sterilize the top. But if you don't have a dishwasher, be sure to allow the top to drip dry in a rack rather than rubbing it dry with a dishtowel. (Kitchen towels are like beach blankets for bacteria.)
Although kitchen floors are generally easy to clean, you might find clean up even easier if you spread out a newspaper or a plastic sheet underneath your baby's high chair before feeding him. If you feed your baby in a carpeted dining room, a dropcloth of some kind is essential.
Remember, for your baby, feeding (especially during the first few months) is not merely a matter of absorbing nutrition-it's fun time. Expect your baby to make a mess by playing with his food, and you won't be disappointed. Food is for eating, yes. But food is also for smearing, painting, slapping, spilling, and generally wallowing in. Try not to get too upset no matter how messy things get. Just keep telling yourself that everything, your baby included, will wash off.
The more opportunities you allow your baby to take part in feeding himself, the messier things will get. But the clean up will be well worth it, because your baby will learn how to feed himself faster.
To cut down on some of the clean up, you'll also need a bib for your baby. Plastic bibs are easy to clean, but if your baby is still eating drippy, pureed baby foods, they do little more than protect his shirt by shifting the spills to his pants. Cloth bibs absorb more of the liquid foods, but they need constant laundering. Plastic bibs with a pocket at the bottom are sometimes too bulky, but they will protect your baby's shirt while catching most spills before they reach his pants. If your baby rebels against wearing a bib (as many infants do) and you want to avoid getting into a prolonged battle, forget the bib and take his shirt off before feeding him. Just make sure the kitchen (or dining room) is warm enough for him.
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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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