Time to get RID of these baby "milestones"
I have some serious pet peeves about a few feeding “milestones” that all of our little ones pass through (although I’ll tell you right now that I skipped them!*) These are milestones in more of a marketing sense than in actual physical development...products that seem to have become so ubiquitous, every parent just hops right on board because that’s how it’s done, of course! If you use these products, STOP RIGHT THIS MINUTE! Too much?? I’m only kidding...kind of. It’s highly unlikely that by going along with these feeding trends, you’ll do your child any harm. However, given my line of work, I have become somewhat of a master of efficiency at feeding kids (pats self on back). I know which products work for most kids and how to present them effectively, and I know which items are kind of a waste of time and money. So again, these pet peeve items of mine will not ruin your kid...but I think I can help steer you in the right direction if you’re at a point where any of these come into play.
The sippy cup. For my speech pathologist friends out there, I could probably just stop with those three words. For the rest of us, I’ll go on. Because I am a behavior analyst and not a speech pathologist, I am not well-versed on the havoc to oral motor development that the introduction of the sippy cup wreaks. I do however have lots of clinical experience with transitioning kids from a bottle to a straw cup or open cup. I always, 100% of the time, skip the sippy cup with all of my clients. I’ve done so with my own two minions as well. Why? For me, it mostly comes down to, why not? Sippy cups were designed as a way to give your kid some apple juice and have it end up in their bellies rather than the floor, your couch, your bed, their hair, the dog’s belly...a noble endeavor, I suppose. Sippy cups were not created to fill any developmental need for a step between the bottle and a straw or cup.
In addition to having no developmental purpose, sippy cups are weird to drink out of (that’s my official scientific input right there). Have you tried it lately? I suggest you do. You close your mouth around it, but unlike a straw, it’s feels awkward and ill-fitting. Then you suck, but you also have to tilt the cup up and tip your head back, like a baby bottle. And if you’ve sprung for the super-spillproof variety with that valve inside the lid, then you’d better suck even harder (that is, if you are actually thirsty and want more than a few piddly drops of water). If I, as an adult with several years of drinking proficiency under my belt, find the sippy cup annoying to use, then why are we making kids do it? Skip the middleman and head for a straw cup. Yeah, they spill, but it’s a slow spill...you have a few seconds reaction time to rectify the situation with minimal damage. Yeah, you might have to limit when/where your kids drink liquids, but you know what, that’s ok. More often than not, when I see a child who walks around with a sippy cup all day, that sippy spout is all chewed to hell. It’s a bad habit, and one that is easily avoided.
Since kids don’t always get the straw thing right away, here’s a tip to get started: Introduce tiny drinks of water from the end of a regular straw. Dip the end of the straw into the water until there’s about 1-2 inches of water inside. Cover the end with your finger to keep the water in place. Put the end of said straw in your baby’s mouth, and when you see his/her lips close on the straw, release your finger so they get a little drink. This helps to shape up lip closure on the straw, see? Sucking will be soon to follow as they get the hang of it. Plus, this little trick is a fun way to keep your baby occupied while you wait for your entrees to come out at the restaurant.
Once they’ve got the straw trick down, there are a couple of products out there that are great as an intermediate step for independent straw drinking. They allow the child to drink freely once they get the hang of it, but you can also squeeze the bottle to push the liquid to the top of (and out of) the straw. Do a couple practice squeezes over the sink before you squeeze it in your baby’s mouth--trust me, you don’t know your own strength!
I started doing the straw trick (above) with my youngest daughter at about 7 months old. Just a few little sips and water here and there; a couple times per week. I introduced this Playtex cup about 1 week ago, squeezing the water all the way to the top of the straw and holding it while she attempted to suck. Two days later? Drinking water INDEPENDENTLY from a straw, like a champ, just a few days short of 10 months old. It works, people.
Another “squeeze straw cup” option:
Once they are independently drinking from the straw, seriously the easiest and best way to go is the Take and Toss cups with the lid and straw. Cheap, simple, no frills, minimal spill factor. Pop a Lightning McQueen sticker on it and there ya go! Happy campers all around.
2.) Stage 3 jarred baby foods. Here is the scenario that I imagine led to stage 3 baby foods being introduced on the market:
A BOARDROOM AT SOME BABY FOOD CONGLOMERATE
Men and women all dressed in power suits--possibly with shoulder pads--sitting at a long rectangular table. They are looking at a chart showing a red zig-zagging line that peaks and then dramatically plummets.
Seymour, how do you explain this dip in baby food sales once babies reach about eight months of age? This is unacceptable!
Well sir, you see (gestures to chart), around that time, parents start feeding their child table foods, and then baby foods are no longer necessary.
(spittle ejecting from his mouth)
Harumph! There must be a way to extend the jarred baby food market! To 12 months of age! And beyond! You’d better come up with a plan, Seymour. You’re on the chopping block here!
Well sir, I did have one thought. We could take pieces of food, like what parents start their babies on...but we could combine them with smooth baby food, jar it up, and label it ‘Stage 3’...you know, since we already make Stage 1 and Stage 2. When parents see it, they’ll move on to those foods first, then table food later. We’ll create the next feeding milestone; it will be great sir, I really do think so!
(slaps the table with enthusiasm)
Seymour, you sonofagun! You’ve done it! Let’s talk production...marketing...print ads! This is going to be huge, people...HUGE!
I have no idea how stage 3 baby foods came about, but this seems to be the most probable explanation. Honestly, Stage 3 baby food is probably my primary pet peeve, because I see the most actual issues with these foods. They are not necessary nor are they helpful in the developmental process. I find that they are actually super confusing to babies. How, you ask? Well, for those of you who haven’t waded the murky waters of a Stage 3 baby food jar, let me paint you a picture. Imagine the same thinnish yet also somehow thickish smooth baby food puree that you would find in a stage 1 jar. But as you dip the spoon in, you realize there’s other stuff in there too. Mushy pasta chunks, a carrot, the skin of a pea...use your imagination. The problem is, it’s a mixed texture food masquerading as a puree. It visually looks like a puree on the spoon, and often (to babies) feels like a puree when it first touches their tongue.
The baby thinks, “Ooh, chicken and rice puree; one of my personal faves. Down the hatch! (immediate swallow). Gag...gag...still gagging...ok, better now. Hey mom! Did I miss the memo? Is it April 1st? I thought I could just swallow that down, no questions asked! What gives, lady?!?!” (I might be imagining that the baby has the voice of a grown man with a New York accent...you know, like Look Who’s Talking. Just sayin).
Some babies quickly learn to navigate the stage 3 consistency. By “learn to navigate,” I mean that they just start swallowing the chunks whole, using the puree part to help it slide on down. Not what you were hoping to accomplish? Yeah, that’s why I never introduce these purees with any of my clients. It doesn’t teach any skills (unless maybe if you need your baby to start swallowing large vitamin caplets), and can actually scare the little guys and (with repeated use) result in food refusal and/or aversion. Not worth the risk, in my opinion.
Instead, I recommend introducing finely and uniformly mashed foods, such as soft fruits or cooked vegetables. Stir in a little broth or water as needed to get a nice consistency. Beyond that, just go for regular table foods, cut into small pieces. I went into that in my last post regarding Baby Led Weaning. This way, you get to start working on some self-feeding early on as well!
3.) Food pouches. I’m sure that by the year 2075, we’ll all be eating rehydrated food out of a bag like the astronauts, but for now, can we continue to teach our kids to self-feed with forks and spoons? I am not opposed to the pouch purees as a rule; I do think there is a time and a place for them. For example, you would have to be insane to hand a three-year-old an applesauce cup and a spoon over your shoulder while cruising down the interstate. Your seat back is the canvas, the spoon a slingshot brush. But, a pouch? Twist of the cap and pass it over--no muss, no fuss! When you’re out on the go, I totally understand the pouch. I sometimes use them with my 10-month-old* (full disclosure, see?!)
Kids can be, like, super lazy. When it comes time to fill their bellies, kids prefer the path of least resistance. The lazy factor is often in play (to an extent) when I see little ones who are either taking in a disproportionate amount of liquids for their daily needs (as opposed to solid foods), or are relying on low texture food (like pouches) for a large portion of their intake. Why bother with the hassle of scooping a bite of yogurt onto a spoon when half of it drops on the table, and another third dribbles down the handle onto your hand? Suck it straight down via pouch!
In extreme cases, kids will actually start refusing spoons altogether. Maybe that’s why these: http://www.toysrus.com/buy/utensils/plum-baby-spoon-boon-3201-4102580 were invented?
Another HUGE benefit to minimizing the pouches is that you can focus on exposing your child to many individual flavors. As I’m sure you’ve noticed when perusing the food pouch aisle, if would appear as if peas cannot appear in the absence of pears; carrots in the absence of apples. Clearly, making vegetables sweet must make them delicious, but it that really necessary? Most of us know that vegetables can be delicious in their own right. Considering the number of picky eaters that I see, I think it would behoove all parents to get their kiddos acquainted with savory, vegetable-y goodness from the start. Easier to teach good habits than it is to break bad habits!
It’s important for kids to meet their (actual) feeding milestones as they come. Utensil feeding may not come easy, but the fine motor development gained in the practice is crucial. Exposure to new textures helps the child to learn to chew and swallow a variety of foods. Skipping the sippy is not only possible, it’s preferable! I hope that next time you’re shopping, these ideas will help you to look at the baby feeding section in a different way!
Until next time,