When I had my first baby, the pediatrician told me about the easy way he and his wife fed their children—they had eleven at the time—when they were babies. What he told me sounded
radical but logical enough that I followed the same system.
Dr. Paul Byrne said the baby needed only breast milk for the first six months. No cereal, no juice, nothing else at all. I nursed our baby daughter on demand, and she began sleeping through the night within a few weeks. (We counted our blessings!)
When she reached six months old, we added solid food (per Dr. Byrne’s instructions) in the form of finger foods. I cut mild liverwurst, cooked carrot, and banana into sticks, placed them on her highchair tray, and she picked them up with her fingers, squished them, spread them around, rubbed them into her hair, and ultimately got some to her mouth. Once the discovery was made, she was hooked.
Although I can’t remember Dr. Byrne’s exact words, he explained that this technique allowed the baby to self-regulate her intake, and it freed the parents to give attention to everyone at the table, not just the baby. After our little daughter ingested some protein, vegetables, and fruit, we offered her Cheerios, which were not only nutritious but also helped to refine her pincer grasp.
As the weeks went by, we added sticks of potato, beet, green beans, and other soft vegetables and fruits. When we traveled, I packed cans of Campbell’s Vegetable Beef Soup, which was full of cut-up vegetables and easy-to-chew meat. By the time she was a year old, she had graduated to a spoon and fork. By eighteen months of age, she was eating pretty much everything I served the rest of the family. (Dr. Byrne cautioned against peanuts, popcorn, hard candy, and anything else that was a choking hazard until age four.)
Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics today recommends that parents put nutritious food on the table, and that the toddler gets to decide whether and how much to eat. (Juice is limited to half a cup per day.) If the toddler refuses food, he will most likely be hungry for the next meal. If he eats a lot, he may eat less or nothing at the next meal. (As an advocate of intuitive eating, this warms my heart and encourages me to provide nutritious food for my own meals.)
I mention Dr. Byrne’s finger-food system because it was quite radical for that era, especially when my friends spoon-fed their babies pureed foods. So we bucked the tide in adopting this plan, realizing of course there many good ways to nourish babies, and this is only one of them. What’s amazing is the wide variety of foods around the world that people give to infants! What do you (or did you) feed your babies?
Which prompts me to end with an old joke—read more at your own risk. (Thanks to my sis-in-law Judy, from whom I first heard it.)
Once upon a time a big mouth frog went out to gather data on the feeding habits of other animals. When he came upon a monkey, he opened his mouth extra-wide in the way he always talked and said, “What do you feed your babies?”
The big mouth frog thanked him and approached an elephant. “What do you feed your babies?”
The big mouth frog thanked the elephant and approached a snake. “What do you feed your babies?”
“Big mouth frogs.”
“Oh.” The big mouth frog compressed his huge lips into a tiny oval. “You don’t see many of them around here, do you?”