Silver Spring, MD, August 10, 2012 – It seems like only yesterday you were giving your baby the first spoonful of baby cereal, but now there are little teeth in that cute little mouth, and those little hands are reaching for food and waving a spoon around.
Self-feeding is a big and important step in a baby’s development. It is the first step to becoming independent. It can also be a frustrating one for parents. Food winds up on the floor, covering the face, in the hair, and pretty much every where you can imagine.
The AAP recommends allowing your child to begin trying to self-feed between 8 and 9 months. But before you start giving them anything they reach for, here are some considerations.
First, how well they chew. Babies like to put everything in their mouths, so while your little one may put a food in his mouth, it doesn’t mean that he will be able to chew it. Start with foods that easily dissolve. That way if your child hasn’t quite developed his chewing ability the food will easily go down. Foods like baby rice puffs or freeze dried yogurt dots are good options made for baby.
A second consideration is the number of teeth your baby has. Most babies start feeding themselves before they have many teeth, but if your baby has his front teeth he may be able to take bites off of crackers or cookies. Similarly, while he may be able to take bites out of things like carrots, he won’t be able to chew them until his molars come in, as a result, hard foods can prove to be a choking hazard.
When baby starts eating, it is a challenge just like any new skill, and it is filled with successes and failures. One dangerous failure can be choking on unchewed food. Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under 5.
To help minimize choking hazards parents need to be involved in their young children’s meal times. Children should be sitting up straight when eating, not playing, and be supervised.
Piece size is important. Cut food into pieces no larger than a half inch. Round shaped foods pose and extra choking hazard since they are perfectly shaped to wedge in the windpipe. The American Academy of Pediatrics list the following foods as substantial choking hazards: hot dogs, hard candy, chewing gum, nuts and seeds, chunks of meat or cheese, whole grapes, popcorn, globs of peanut butter and raw vegetables.
Bread can become a choking hazard as well. It can ball up and become sticky or gummy when it becomes wet. Peanut butter can also cause choking, so be careful not to put large globs on crackers, fruit or bread when spreading it. Peanut butter can also stick to the roof of a child’s mouth forming a glob as they eat more and more. That glob can come loose and cause a choking hazard.
According to the AAP, Children don’t master the type of chewing necessary for eating raw vegetables and hard candies until age 4. Make sure you remove seeds and pits from foods like cherries and watermelon before you give it to a baby.
Most children will begin using utensils around their first birthday. Although mastery with this implements does not usually arrive for several a while longer, between 15-18 months. Regardless as to when your child starts to be able to feed themselves, with or without utensils, they still find ways to entertain themselves with their meal, or their dishes. Remember to serve food in unbreakable dishes and cups, as everything winds up on the floor eventually.
Babies have a natural ability to self-regulate their food intake, so don’t try to force them to eat more than they want. Of course, it can sometimes be a challenge to tell whether your little one is full or just bored. Studies have shown that many parents over-feed their babies and it is a leading cause of childhood obesity, so try to avoid the impulse to force food on your little one.
Finally, remember to watch how your baby reacts to the foods you give him. Something he may have loved in puree form may now be discarded because of texture. Maybe he is having trouble picking up a slick steamed vegetable or he wants to use his spoon to paint the tray table with his yogurt. His behaviors and reactions to foods can help you find creative ways to balance your child’s diet.
Finally, remember that healthy eating habits are learned early and that how and what you feed your child sets the pattern for the rest of his life.
Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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