Expert Q&A: Meeting Your Baby's Nutrition Needs
An interview with pediatrician Stephen Parker, MD.
What if your baby is one of the really picky eaters?
The biggest rule is: Never to try to force them to eat. Make mealtime pleasant and fun -- they need to enjoy it or they’ll eat even less. Most babies, even if they’re very picky, will take enough of whatever it is they like to stay healthy. It’s very rare that a baby is so picky that they won’t grow if you let them eat what they want.
Perhaps give a supplemental vitamin if they’re sticking with one kind of food. Keep offering other foods regularly, put them away for a while if they don’t like it, and try again later. With a really picky eater, no games or tricks work except time. Parents make it worse by fighting with them and trying to force the things they don’t like.
What should parents do if their baby is overweight?
It’s certainly possible for babies to be overweight, and there definitely is a genetic component to that. Some babies put on weight more easily even with taking in the same amount of calories.
Do we need to worry about it? That’s a hard one. It can be a marker that this baby is susceptible to being overweight as a child. You don’t want to put a baby on a diet, but with some babies you might want to restrict the more fattening things -- maybe offering a little less milk and more fruits and vegetables to keep their weight at a reasonable level for their height. Talk to your pediatrician about this.
When is a baby ready to feed herself?
When she’s ready and when she wants to can be two different things! Babies always think they’re ready. At 8 or 9 months, they will want to push the food in and make a mess. There’s nothing wrong with that. The baby should be allowed independence and a chance to try it, even as you’re spooning the food that you want to get in her. It should be a collaborative effort.
Promote that independence and fun and joy in eating for the baby; never discourage it. Early on, some babies may be really stubborn and not want the parents to feed them, and you may have to use subterfuge -- make noise and distract them. They think they’re good at it, but they’re not and they don’t get that much in. But even if they don’t, they’ll make it up in the milk. It’s very rare that it causes nutritional problems, just a few bumps along the road.
What foods should you absolutely not feed a baby under 1 year old?
The big controversy is peanuts. There is some data that says you should hold off until they’re at least 3 years old because peanut allergies are really scary. But there is a competing theory that says that introducing small amounts of them early is what we need to do to prevent long-term peanut allergies.