As if feeding a baby wasn't difficult enough already, new research has come out that can give you a nice complex about whether you are force feeding your children and making them fat. Are you ready for a nice big bite of delicious concern? Open wide.
The research, which was conducted by Ellen Townsend and Nicola Pitchford, of the University of Nottingham's School of Psychology, looked at 155 children between 20 months and six years old. Their parents filled out questionnaires about how the child was weaned (spoon-fed by a parent or allowed to feed themselves using their fingers), the child's eating habits, and their food preferences.
They found that babies who had been spoon-fed were more likely to eat a bigger variety of foods but opted usually for sweet foods, like fruit purees. They also tended to be overweight compared to their compatriots who ventured into the eating world by using their hands. Those "baby-led" eaters tended to prefer carbohydrate-based food, like toast. Of course, what's not explained is whether they preferred toast since that's what they were served—because good luck serving a fruit puree as a finger food. Anyway, three percent of the kids in the baby-led group were actually underweight.
So this raises the question: is it the type of food that the kids are eating or the method of feeding? Both, silly, says Dr. Townsend:
It could be an age of introduction effect that we are seeing. Carbohydrates are ideal finger foods. But self-control of feeding may also be a factor. You are handing over control and letting the baby decide how much they want to eat. With spoon feeding there is the temptation to get into them whatever is left in the bowl or the jar.
So are we messing with nature by trying to convince our kids to finish a jar of the goddamn peas? Is it even safe to put their sustenance in their own hands? Tam Fry, of the UK's National Obesity Forum, said babies may indeed know best:
It is important that they experience all five food groups and experiment with variety as much as possible. If half of it finishes on the floor, so be it — the value of experimentation in the early months of nutrition is incalculable, and babies won't willingly starve themselves.
Yeah, man, so what if your child only eats three bites and then throws a tantrum a half-hour later while you're still busy trying to pick up the pulverized Cheerio bits off the floor. They need to experiment, and it's not like they're going to starve to death. Oh, and if you were thinking of using the ol' "they'll choke if they feed themselves" excuse to try to get through breakfast in a reasonable amount of time, think again, says Scientific American:
One common concern that parents and doctors report having about letting young children feed themselves fistfuls of food—choking—was only reported by a couple parents in the baby-lead group.
Oh, only "a couple," that's reassuring. I mean what are the chances that your kid would fall into that group…
Anyway, in the end, the researchers do say, "Our results suggest that baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood that could protect against obesity." And, of course, there were weight differences between the two groups, and those differences held after other factors (like birth weight, length of breastfeeding, and socioeconomic status) were accounted for. So it does seem like the method of weaning has an effect, even if it's slight. But the good news is that most of the kids in either group were considered a healthy weight, and there needs to be more research done to determine if the weight differences held beyond the first several years of life.
So for now, why don't you just feed your baby whatever you think is best, in whatever way is easiest for the both of you, and enjoy the process as much as possible, rather than obsessing that you're going to turn your child into some morbidly obese adult if you make her finish the whole serving of that weird pastel Gerber meat-in-a-jar.
Image via Paul Hakimata Photography/Shutterstock.