Early Years are crucial for growth and development of children and hence, the significance of feeding is beyond debate. 25 % of calorie intake of first two years is purely devoted to growth and infants need extra calories to keep rapidly developing organs of the body functioning properly (Trahms and Pipes, 1997).
To begin with, breastfeeding is ideally suited to infants because of multiple reasons. Human milk is higher in fat and lower in proteins and this balance is ideal for rapidly growing nervous system. Apart from this, breastfeeding helps in ensuring healthy physical growth, nutritional completeness and digestibility. Research has proven time and again that breastfed infants accept new solid foods more easily than bottle fed infants, perhaps because of their greater experience with a variety of flavors which pass from the maternal diet into mother’s milk.
To manage feeding with developmental milestones and based on various benefits of breastfeeding, World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until age 2 years, with solid food added at 6 months. Mothers who are not having sufficient breast milk or cannot be with the child all the time, can still combine breastfeeding with bottle-feeding though exclusive breast feeding for first 6 months is highly recommended.
Bottle fed and breastfed children do not differ in emotional adjustment, so parents of bottle fed children need not to worry about healthy psychological development. Be it bottle-fed or breast fed, start including solids in diet of infants from 6 months onward in following fashion:
At 0-6 months, babies are solely breast and/or bottle fed. For both breastfed or bottle fed children, it is found through research that body starts gaining control around 4 months on sucking and therefore, feeding becomes less automatic and more voluntary. This maturity is well observed in children of 6 months, and therefore, it is during this period that many babies will be introduced to soft solid foods such as cereals and pureed fruits and vegetables.
Between the ages of 6-9 months, babies can sit and pick food articles on their own by using fingers and thumb. They are also ready to open their mouths and wait for the spoon to enter. The concept of food starts at this age and biological clock starts functioning at its best by this time.
Eruption of front teeth begins at this age in children, so they are found to keep food longer in mouth between 6 to 9 months. Any pureed food works wonderfully for this age of children as it matches perfect with their developmental milestones of feeding and teething.
At this stage, children recognize food by sight, smell and taste. Children might point out at food preferences by this age and therefore, a great idea is to introduce as many food items as possible by this age. By 1 year, infants’ diets should include all the basic food groups.
In this age, children not only can close the lips to clear the spoon but can also chew softer lumps of food. 77% infants can clear the spoon by 8 to 10 months and are perfect in using tongue movements to chew the food articles.Most infants can also sip liquids from a closed cup by themselves by eleven months
Chewing requires a combination of lip, tongue and jaw movements and early chewing can develop before the teeth have erupted as the gums are hard from the teeth within them. Chewing efficiency develops in 13-15-months old children while they will improve with their biting skills and are better able to use a controlled feeding through non-pureed food article.
The first teeth are usually the lower front teeth (incisors – at six to ten months), followed by the upper front teeth (eight to 12 months). The side teeth (molars) do not usually appear before the end of the first year. Keeping this in mind, try to introduce all possible solids between 13 to 15 months as chewing efficiency will purely be dependent on the opportunities given to children for chewing during this age.
At 16-18 months, children are given more challenging foods that require chewing such as meats, chapatis and many vegetables. The reason for this introduction of challenging foods purely lies in the fact of enhanced mouth control of children due to eruption of teeth.
Eye hand coordination is also at its best by this age, so children should be allowed to eat food on their own by this age. 90% of infants can feed themselves with a spoon by the end of 18 months.Few infants can drink liquids from an open cup by eighteen months of age.
This is found to be most challenging age related to feeding for toddlers as they are often very reluctant to accept new foods and might refuse to eat foods that they accepted before. In psychology, it’s called neophobic reaction to food and can stay till age of eight years. This rejection of new foods is a normal response which peaks at about the age of 20 months. Therefore, it is highly recommended to not to forced feed children of this age. It might result in repulsion toward food which will stay for coming five years!
Children are found to be learning to drink in longer sequences with little to no spillage by this age.
2- 3 years
By the age of 2, children can manage any type of food as they have learned all the skills they need to eat every type of food, although they will continue to “fine tune” these skills over the next few years.
Drops and spillage are still common but reduce by this period of development and this is the age to learn eating by imitating. The concept of healthy eating habits should be introduced at this age and parents just need to “walk the talk” when it comes to feeding of children beyond this age.
Food habits are highly influenced by family practices so, following a routine, eating all food groups, approach toward food are all copied and followed among children after 2 years. So Just Eat what you want your child to eat! Do what you want your child to Follow!
Head, Training and Development
Founding Years Private Limited