Feed Your Baby and Toddler Right!

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I had no concept – none at all!

I thought I was on top of something as “simple” as feeding an infant.  When I became pregnant, all I had to do initially was to make a decision about breastfeeding or bottle feeding.  Breastfeeding is supposed to be healthier and, unlike many mothers, I had a somewhat flexible work schedule because I owned my business, so that’s what I’d do. I had my gift of a silver baby spoon to pass onto my daughter when she reached that stage of eating, so I was good to go!

I now look back at my simplistic solution to early feeding and am astonished, because all these years later I now learn the decisions we as mothers make during the first 12 months of feeding a child are possibly the most critical decisions in our children’s lives.

Why? It turns out that those decisions impact our children’s health for the rest of their lives! That’s the conclusion you’ll draw from the “go-to” authority on feeding babies, Diane Bahr, who just published a book for parents, Feed Your Baby and Toddler Right! After 30 years of teaching everyone from speech-language pathology graduate students to working clinicians in the fields of occupational, speech, and physical therapy to dental professionals, lactation consultants, doctors, nurses, behavior specialists, and many others, Diane Bahr is on a mission to inform parents what the experts know.

The U.S. statistics back up her cause, because they are bleak when it comes to the health of our children. Childhood diabetes has ramped up in catastrophic numbers – up 23% for type 1 diabetes and 30% in type 2 diabetes between 2000 and 2009. And obesity is out of control: 40% of adults and 20% of American children are obese.

You would think someone in the medical community would have informed us about how to achieve good health for our children. Frankly, I was only told there’s a soft spot on your infant’s head. Protect that, because the “scull isn’t completely formed” (so your child could make it through the birth canal).

No one EVER told me that my child’s face/head/mouth were also changing internally and externally or that you can mess up airways permanently by the way you handle your baby while feeding, which can translate into breathing problems for the rest of your child’s life!

From the moment you pick up your baby for the first feeding, the decisions you make impact your child’s health in serious, life-changing ways, from the appearance of your child’s face to whether your child develops sinus and/or ear problems, allergies and/or sensitivities, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, sleep apnea or a whole host of disorders in breathing. Even the timing of your child’s language development and/or his ability to speak articulately are impacted by your decisions involving feeding.  Who knew?

During the first year of your child’s life, how you diversify your child’s menu and the volume of food you provide can determine whether your child becomes a picky and selective eater (which can lead to nutritional problems or orthodontic issues), whether he will suffer from childhood diabetes or have serious weight/BMI problems, or whether he will grow up healthy.

When you feed your child anything, you should know the size of your child’s stomach, so you can prepare the portions appropriately, particularly as the child becomes a toddler. If you think the size of a bottle or food container dictates the amount of milk or processed food a child should eat, you’d be wrong.

Instead, look at your child’s fist. That’s approximately the size of your child’s stomach.

Look at the plate of food you’re insisting she eat. Hmmm. My parents told me that I had to sit in my chair until I cleaned my plate. What I learned was to eat more than I ever should have, so I’ve spent a lifetime battling weight issues. Only now have I learned this.

It’s totally mind-blowing. My son had terrible allergies as a baby. Worse, he still has. Looking back, I can’t remember how long we allowed him to suck the pacifier that soothed him. A pacifier is meant for a newborn infant, placating their sucking instinct, which dissipates when no longer needed. It’s not for an older child. Why not? It impedes the tongue’s resting place.

Do you know where the tongue rests and why? (Think again about this before I tell you.  It rests on the top/roof of your mouth.) If your older child is constantly sucking a pacifier, the support for the contour of the mouth is obstructed so it can impact the breathing structures, teeth space, nose, sinus, and ears. It also affects natural facial development.

Another thing you’ll learn: Depending on how you feed a newborn, how you hold him is critical. If he’s on a bottle, the ears MUST be higher than his mouth (holding your baby upright at approximately a 45-degree angle from birth); otherwise, liquid can end up in his ears, which can create blockages and infections. Even the size/conformation of a bottle’s nipple is important.

Because babies spend huge amounts of time on their backs, it’s critically important you place your child on his stomach (when not in bed sleeping!), because his jaw is growing, which supports his teeth development (among other things, like air passages, head and neck strength, and mouth). Tummy time is really important, just as are creeping and crawling, when he comes to those stages.

Why haven’t we known these things? The fact is that – only until now, actually – a relatively small cadre of professionals have been working to save children’s lives who couldn’t eat “right” because of physical problems, like cleft palates. They also were exceedingly busy teaching other professionals. They learned through academic research and even harder experience. Because the literature on the subject of babies’ health was sparse (primarily in dissertations or scientific studies), the Diane Bahrs of the world became the pioneers in “orofacial development and the mechanics of feeding and mouth development and speech/language pathologies.”

Now, Diane has written a book for parents that’s packed with checklists, write-in charts, illustrations, and developmental lists to help a parent understand typical milestones, potential pitfalls, and recommended solutions. She also provides access sources (including specialists, should your child need one) for services and recommended tools.

Diane admits Feed Your Infant and Toddler Right! is not a book most people would sit down and read through. She lets you know, “if you become overwhelmed by the amount of information in the book, look up one piece of information at a time as it applies to you and your baby or toddler.”

Frankly, I think the timing of this book is perfect because, if there’s a generation that likes to research things and get to the bottom line, it seems it’s the Millennials (and they’re having babies later than other generations have had, so we all have hope they will be able to change the stats on American unhealthiness).

You would think the first year of feeding a child “right” would be a slam dunk, and it can be if you have all the facts.

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