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At around six months of age, many mothers start introducing their babies to solids and semi-solids. To make this change, we feed our little darlings using a spoon. It is easy to feed foods such as purees, mash, soup, etc., using a spoon, which is why it becomes a constant companion for meal-times. Many of us continue to feed our baby with a spoon for several months as it helps ascertain that the child has had enough food. However, a study in the field of child development has pointed at a big risk for all spoon-fed babies. It is important to take note of this and make changes in our baby’s feeding accordingly.
The study was conducted by Amy Brown, an associate professor at Swansea University. For her book “Why Starting Solids Matters”, she has extensively studied babies, their weight and eating behaviour. Her research points at a major precaution we must observe when feeding our babies:
Babies who are spoon-fed for a long time are at a much HIGHER risk of developing childhood obesity! These babies may struggle with weight problems for several years. Importantly, these results are independent of other factors such as the mother’s background, birth weight, weaning age and breastfeeding.
We will be honest, this came across as quite a shock, especially as feeding babies with a spoon is a habit with many moms. However, obesity is not a problem we can choose to ignore. The number of cases of childhood obesity are rising dangerously, and it exposes our kids to several serious problems ranging from heart disease and diabetes to self-esteem and social development issues.
Why Spoon-feeding is An Obesity Risk for Babies
Amy explained the link between spoon-feeding and obesity in detail, and also stressed the need to use a baby-led approach for weaning: When babies are fed with a spoon, it is not easy for them to understand when they feel full and have eaten enough. Neither their brain nor their stomach is so well-developed yet. This means that parent-led spoon-feeding can often lead the children to eat more than they need or want.
On the other hand, when the baby feeds by himself and is allowed to handle foods, he can control the intake and eat at his own pace. This promotes appetite regulation and healthy weight gain trajectories.
Infants weaned using a baby-led approach are also better able to stop eating when they felt full. This means they are less likely to become overweight due to overeating. Bonus: youngsters who are given the opportunity to feed themselves are more likely to be adventurous as well as become healthy eaters when they grow up!
When & How to Stop Spoon-Feeding Your Baby
The expert recommendation is to stop spoon-feeding your baby after the age of six months. At this time, you should slowly let your baby handle foods and attempt to self-feed. Usually, babies are ready to start self-feeding by the age of 6-9 months. You will, of course, need to spoon-feed from time to time as the baby cannot handle cutlery properly yet, but the idea is to let the baby try.
Remember that every baby is different and some may take longer to be ready for baby-led weaning. Check for the following signs in your baby to understand if it’s time to stop spoon-feeding them:
- Your baby can stay in a sitting position
- Your baby can hold their head steady
- Your baby can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth
- Your baby is grasping food or objects with the palm of the hand
- Your baby can swallow food and not push it back out with their tongue
If you see the above signs in your child, you can start teaching them to self-feed! A few healthy and safe options to teach your baby to eat with a spoon are:
- Well-cooked pasta
- Mashed vegetables
- Scrambled eggs
Note: Strictly avoid foods such as grapes and peanuts as they might cause choking in kids. Also supervise your child at all times.
Two Other Expert Feeding Tips for Babies
Once you have ruled out extended spoon-feeding as an obesity risk for your baby, also keep these two precautions in mind:
1. Let Your Baby Decide the Quantity
Never force feed. As a rule, babies should be allowed to eat as little or as much as they want when learning to feed themselves. If they fail to eat enough in one meal, space their meals out more closely so they are eating more often. Many babies find it difficult to eat too much at one go as their stomach is still small. You can also compensate for uneaten food through healthy snacks and making the next meal-time earlier.
You can read more about understanding your baby’s appetite here.
2. Watch Out for Signs That the Baby is Full
Most babies will show clear signs when they have had enough to eat; we just need to spot them. Amy says, “When you are waving the spoon around and saying ‘Here comes the big aeroplane – let’s finish it’, if they clamp their mouth shut, forget about it.”
Some other signs include turning their head away, saying (or trying to say) ‘No’, and spitting out food. Don’t force your baby to eat if you observe these signs.
Remember: healthy eating habits start early, and so do weight-related problems. Sticking to expert-recommended feeding precautions right from childhood is a good way to ensure your baby is getting adequate nourishment, without being at risk of obesity.
Children can develop obesity in their early years even if no one else in the family is overweight. It is imperative that we exercise this caution when feeding our little darlings.