Feeding Infants and Young Children

Feeding/nursing infants should be a social time (except in the night when we dream nurse/feed) for infants and parents. Infants love to gaze into our eyes while getting fed. We should softly talk to our infants while feeding them. I often see parents missing out on valuable bonding time because they do other things while nursing/feeding the infant. It’s important that we communicate to the infant that we enjoy being with him/her. It shouldn’t be a chore to nurse/feed him or her.

Asking infants if they want another bite or to nurse/drink is also important instead of shoveling food into their mouths.  I’ve seen parents shove a bottle or a spoonful of food into a baby’s mouth in order to “shut them up.”  Not only is this disrespectful, it could cause the infant to choke.

I strongly believe in feeding infants and toddlers when they are hungry.  Their stomachs are small.  They need to eat more frequently than we do and have smaller portions.  They also get dehydrated quicker than adults.  I also believe we shouldn’t force children to finish their meals.  Forcing infants and young children to ignore their hunger and satiation cues can mess up their body and lead to eating disorders later on.

While encouraging children to try new foods is important, I don’t think it’s fair to force children to eat foods that they truly dislike.  I also understand making a whole separate meal for them isn’t practical, so we should do our best to include one dish within the meal that the child likes.  For picky eaters, and really all children, letting them have a say a couple nights a week as to what they want for dinner as well as allowing them to be an active part in meal prep can go a long way in encouraging healthy eating.

Finally, try not to scrape food off infants and toddlers’ mouths with the spoon. I have to be fed myself and I don’t allow people to scrape food off my mouth and chin. It feels gross and isn’t respectful. Wipe their mouth with a cloth. Telling them before you wipe them mouths helps them cooperate slightly better.

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Why Talking to Infants is So Important

I taught the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach at a community college a few years ago, and they have a child development lab where early childhood college students learn how to work with young children. After one of my RIE sessions where I discussed talking to infants and toddlers before doing things with them, some of the students got to see RIE in action at the child development lab.

The infant room had just gotten a new infant. She was just 6 weeks old. *6 weeks.* I always emphasize the 6 weeks part of this story every time I tell it. You’ll see why in a moment. Anyway, the teachers in the infant room told the college students that every time someone tried to pick up this child, she’d get very startled and scream. The teachers didn’t know how to help her. The college students decided to give RIE a try.

They went to the baby, got on her level, made eye contact, and said, “Hey —–, I’m going to pick you up. Are you ready?” They held out their hands to the baby as they said this to her and waited a few moments before slowly picking her up.

Guess what?!  The baby didn’t cry!  It worked!

A 6-week-old cannot yet understand words. But they do pick up on speech innotations and body language. This is why talking to infants and toddlers is so important!

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