Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Infants and Eating

So we are totally immersed in the beginning stages of eating with our little guy! What fun! Here is just a general overview of how we introduce solids based on my experiences in a fabulous infant Montessori class a few years back...and how we adapt these things to use at home.

First off, two books I highly recommend when it comes to Infant Feeding are Super Baby Food by Ruth Yarrow and Babywise by Gary Ezzo (the chapters on eating). I think both of them are a little extreme in their views and I tend to draw from what they believe and not use it as a the final word...but it's good background info to have--especially Ezzo's information on how we train babies in response to hunger.

Moving on......
It's important to note that our feeding procedure is what we follow MOST OF THE TIME. Sometimes it's just too cold in our house to feed the poor boy shirtless, so of course I keep him clothed and use a bib. And naturally we don't undress him in restaurants. Sometimes I give him his water in a sippy cup, just to keep him familiar with how to use it (or because, face it, I haven't unloaded the dishwasher that day and have no clean shot glasses.....) But the following is the procedure I learned in my Montessori experience and what we typically follow.

First off, we feed Beck during our mealtimes--the same place and time as the rest of us eat. OF COURSE there are sometimes exceptions--like if he gets off his nap schedule and is asleep during a meal, etc. But we are trying to teach him the concept of "meal time" and to become a participant in the social aspect of eating. He sits with us while we thank God for the blessing of food. He sees how we all sit down together and stay seated during mealtime. He "interacts" with us in our dinnertime/lunchtime conversation (obviously right now it's a little one-sided...). He is taking in so many concepts of "mealtime" and what this means that he wouldn't be exposed to if we fed him separately at another time.

We typically put Beck's food in a clear container. I love the little glass jelly jars for the portion he's eating right now with these fabulous screw-on plastic lids! The reason for the clear container is to begin teaching him the concept that as he eats his food, the amount in the dish decreases and is eventually gone. This is a very basic math skill in volume, and also a cause-effect relationship. It also allows him to begin to observe the properties of the foods he eats--the color and texture as he sees it in the dish (early science skill).

We usually use a metal baby spool because metal responds to the heat of the food being eaten--a metal spoon dipped in refrigerated yogurt turns cold. A metal spoon dipped in warm squash heats up. Beck can begin sensing these differences on his tongue and lips as he eats. A plastic spoon is less responsive to the heat of the food and provides less sensory input for our little eater. Obviously I sometimes use a plastic spoon if the others are dirty or something, but I TRY to stick with uncoated metal spoons.

We introduce sign language with eating. We sign "eat" before giving him any food by asking "Do you want to eat?" and sign "eat" as we say the word. Sometimes he doesn't even look at us at all while we do this, but other times he does. It doesn't matter if he isn't crazy attentive to this--it's a process and exposure to signs matched with speech and action will build up to create understanding over time.

We also sign "more" between bites. Sometimes not between EVERY bite--if he's hungry we don't torture him like that. :) But I do pause occasionally to give him the chance to request more. He'll usually reach for the food or grunt or even scream. At that point we say, "more" and do the sign. We are modeling for him how to request more and providing opportunities for him to have to make the request (early opportunities for independence--even in a 6 month old!!). We also say/sign "water" before giving him drinks, and we sign "all done" when his food is gone or he has shown us he doesn't want to eat anymore. I have seen mealtime signing to be so successful in both infant and toddler classrooms and also in our home setting with Quinn. It's so helpful to know if your baby is full (all done) or wants a drink (later we'll teach "milk") or even needs more Cheerios or strawberries or whatever. It helps reduce mealtime conflict and really adds a strong sense of personal responsibility and independence for infants and toddlers.
We totally go off Beck's cues to not "overdo" the signing and letting it become obtrusive--we use gently when it fits in at appropriate times, and also build it into our routine.

Here is Beck reaching for his yogurt/sweet potato lunch--in a clear glass jar with a metal spoon. We use shot glasses for his water.

At each meal we also offer water--between a series of bites and at the end of the meal. I love small shot glasses. They are the perfect size and the taper makes them easy for little hands to hold while the wide mouth helps get the liquid in baby's mouth.

I sign and offer water by holding the glass slightly out of Beck's reach so he puts his hand(s) out for it. I wrap his hands around the glass so he is holding it himself with me helping to support. He usually is able to tip it himself with me helping as necessary. Allowing him to sip his water without a shirt on provides immediate feedback when he spills or tips too quickly. He will gasp when that cold water hits his chest! Babies can learn to master open cups very quickly--it's surprising! I remember the first time I went into an infant montessori class and saw the older infants drinking from open cups so efficiently!
Open cups teach babies the cause/effect relationship of spillage, allow for personal responsibility, and are nice to use because they hold very small amounts of liquid that can be totally consumed in one setting (again--the cause/effect relationship of liquids decreasing in volume as they are drank).

Feeding shirtless is for the same reason--so the child can get IMMEDIATE feedback when food is spilled/dropped from the mouth onto the chest.

Also, at every meal (or the majority of the time) we give Beck a food he can feed himself. This is important for building personal responsibility/independence and for helping to hone his motor skills in the practical life area of eating. We often use small pieces of bread we've pulled apart (to practice the palmar grasp and later the pincer grasp), a piece of toast, a hard cracker, a steamed large broccoli floret, a whole steamed carrot, a whole banana (with the peel pulled down half way--keeping the peel on makes it easier to hold--bananas are slippery!) and later we'll add in more finger foods. Allowing him to feed himself also gives us time to get our food eaten!

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