How you feed your baby is just as important as what you feed them. It involves taking time to understand their sounds and gestures, then responding to them appropriately. For example, it’s right to stop feeding when your little one shows signs that they’re done, like turning their head from you or pushing away the spoon.
Babies have an inborn ability to regulate their food intake based on their appetite, which means that we can trust them to eat enough to be satisfied. However, it’s largely up to parents to set them up for success by providing nutritious food and a comfortable eating environment.
There are some common signs of hunger and fullness that babies tend to make. Bear in mind though your baby may have their own way of communicating these things, while crying can be interpreted in lots of different ways.
It can take time to understand your baby’s feeding signals, but you’ll get there by giving them your undivided attention at mealtimes. The following table may help you to decide what your little one is trying to say.
|Hunger cues||Fullness cues|
|● Fussing||● Closing mouth or clamping it shut|
|● Crying||● Pushing food, your hand or the spoon away|
|● Leaning towards food||● Turning head and/or body away from food|
|● Opening mouth and hands||● Crying or showing distress|
|● Getting excited around food||● Slowing down pace of eating|
|● Getting excited when you eat||● Getting distracted by surroundings|
|● Exaggerated facial expressions, smiling, making happy noises or cooing around food||● Holding food in mouth without swallowing|
|● Reaching for food||● Fussing as you bring food towards them|
|● Signalling a clear ‘no’, e.g. a head shake|
|● Throwing food|
|● Crying or having a ‘meltdown’|
The atmosphere you create at and around the table influences your baby’s understanding of mealtimes. As they grow up, it’s beneficial for them to learn that these occasions are happy, positive social experiences.
This means that you should aim to create a pleasant vibe, leaving any worry or anxiety that you might have about weaning at the door and, of course, parking your own food beliefs and rules firmly outside. Below, you can find some top tips to aid a positive mealtime experience.
Avoid distractions by, for example, turning the television and other screens off, and removing toys from the table, which would only serve to move focus away from the meal. Playing music quietly in the background can be a nice idea, as calming music may help to give mealtimes a relaxed vibe.
Smiling and using a happy sing-song tone of voice can encourage your baby to accept new foods during weaning. If your face suggests that you’re having fun and you can show them that you’re enthusiastically enjoying the experience and/or food too, it should help to make the time go better for both of you.
There are huge benefits to be had from sharing a meal together with your baby and being a positive role model for them. They will learn the skills required to eat a wide range of foods more quickly, as well as social and language skills, and likely accept new flavours more readily. You’re also setting them up to have a positive relationship with food from the very start.
There will be good and bad days when it comes to weaning. Babies will:
● Accept food one day and reject it the next
● Play with food, but not actually eat it (it’s part of how they learn)
● Throw food and look to see where it's landed
● Spit food back out (they’re learning how it feels in their mouths)
● Have days when they appear to be on hunger strike
These are all normal occurences and are frequently seen between 7 months and 2 years of age. Expect some off days and remember that learning to eat is a skill, just like learning to walk or talk, and it can take a while for babies to master it.