Baby’s First Meal
Like a mama bird, partially chewing food yourself, and then offering the chewed food to your baby is an age-old tradition in many cultures.
In the beginning stages of eating, you can use a long spoon to feed the puree directly from the feeding cubes, a small bowl, or a divided plate. At first you need to hold the container of food out of reach from your baby, because if she gets her fingers in the puree, she will make a mess since she does not know how to feed herself yet. As she begins to eat finger foods, you can put a few pieces of food directly onto the high chair tray or a waterproof place mat. When she can use utensils and dishes, unbreakable ones are best for safety, and she can enjoy dishes with fun designs on them.
Support your baby’s first meal in the following ways:
- You can start by nursing or giving your baby a bottle for a few minutes, so that she is relaxed but still hungry, and her digestive juices are activated.
- Wash your hands, and sit her in her high chair or in your lap.
- Put a small taste of food on the tip of your finger, and let her suck on your finger.
- She may use her tongue to push food back out, which is a natural reflex. It may take a few times for her to learn to swallow.
- If the food comes right back out repeatedly, then she is not ready yet, and you can try again a few days later. If she swallows easily, you can try feeding her with a spoon.
How Much to Eat
During her first few months, your baby will need to breast-feed or take a bottle often because her stomach is small, and it cannot hold much food. As her stomach gets bigger, she can eat more at a time, so she will not need to eat as often. When she is first eating solid foods, the amount she eats from day to day may vary. Eating is a new experience for your baby, and her body is learning how to digest unfamiliar foods. She will also have growth spurts during which she may eat more at certain times.
Setting up regular feedings gives your baby’s body a break between meals, because too frequent meals can result in overfeeding. Your child will eat when she is hungry, and she needs periods between meals for healthy digestion. When your baby is able to feed herself, an occasional snack during the day between meals is normal. However, offering food irregularly throughout the day as solutions to emotional upsets, and developing a habit of “grazing,” does not give your baby’s digestive system a rest. All-day snacking can interfere with a good appetite at mealtimes and can contribute to problematic eating habits throughout her lifetime.
Overeating can also numb out your baby’s body signals that tell her whether she is truly hungry or satisfied. These body signals are the cues that help her learn to self-regulate her own balance and develop healthy eating habits that will prevent obesity. In most Western cultures, children generally have more illnesses from excess and overeating than from being underfed.
Establishing a Routine
Once your baby starts solids, you will probably already have some regular routines established: bedtime, waking up, naps, nursing, etc. Getting into a routine with eating solids will happen gradually as you replace some of your nursing with meals of solid foods. You can start with one meal, then gradually work up to three meals a day and a snack. Meals scheduled around at the same time can be reassuring and can help create a sense of security and order. At around nine months, you can shift from demand feedings to a more regular schedule. Having meals at consistent, scheduled times will help your baby’s body adjust to a routine.
Some parents worry that they will be tied to the home in order to keep a schedule. Occasional schedule changes may have consequences, and your baby may become irritable when you travel or when meals do not happen as expected, so it may take a day or so to get completely back on track. I like the idea of developing a disciplined routine with the ability to be flexible when needed.