We often hear proud mamas talking about how their babies were walking by 9 or 10 months, or saying their first words by 7 months. These babies show early aptitudes for athleticism or oration. Both are great qualities to excel at, and both kinds of mamas should be equally proud.
Our daughter, though, is neither. My Bitsy Girl is an advanced eater.
She was a breastmilk girl all the way for the first six months of her life. She nursed like it was her job, and she was a professional. I hadn’t realized how adept Bitsy Girl actually was at nursing until I began pumping. I was producing a lot of milk everyday to keep up with her demands. Upwards of 6 oz. per feeding when she was only a few months old. This girl really had a knack for efficiently getting milk, and with no real help from me or any lactation professional.
We waited just about the full six months (see why here) to give Bitsy girl “real” food, and she loved it. She started off with sweet potatoes, then moved onto homemade applesauce, spinach, broccoli, homemade yogurt, carrots, and just about anything else I could make a puree out of.
In a few months I noticed Bitsy girl would put things in her mouth. Correction: she put everything in her mouth. I know babies do this to learn about an object (consquently so do puppies, which is why they nip so much). I thought I could use this natural behavior to my advantage, and it worked! I started with cut up pieces of avocado, already a favorite of the pureed foods, and watched as my daughter picked pieces up, put them in her mouth to learn about them, realized they were delicious, swallowed, and went for another piece. She was no more than 8 months old.
This was honestly a big breakthrough for Beard and I as parents. We were able, for the first time, to sit and eat a meal as a family. Bitsy girl could eat her cut up pieces of soft fruits and veggies while we had whatever our dinner was. She felt like a real part of the family, while we felt relief in not having to spoon feed her every single meal she ate.
For the next few months, Bitsy Girl found more and more foods she liked to eat with her fingers, like cut up bananas, bread, veggies, and even chicken. She eventually graduated to pasta, which meant she was almost eating what we had most nights for dinner.
My husband had the genius idea one afternoon to teach our daughter to take bites from a slice of bread. He showed her a biting motion while she had the bread in her mouth, and soon enough she understood what to do. Because of this, by 11 months, our daughter was able to eat a sandwich by herself (on soft bread, of course). It blew my mind to see much of the extra food preparation for her was becoming more and more unnecessary.
As she moves into her 14th month on this planet, my daughter is growing more and more comfortable using a spoon and fork to put food into her mouth. She is still working on understanding that turning a spoon upside-down will dump the contents, but a fork, she has learned, will hold what it has speared (usually) regardless of the angle it is held.
It is amazing to me that in just over a year, the daughter I had to feed every meal in my arms can now (mostly) feed herself. Some of you may be asking how we managed to do this, and I can give you a few simple tips:
- Let baby get messy and touch their food. From a very early age, we always let Bitsy Girl stick her fingers in her food or grab the spoon or fork. I wanted her to know that she could take control of her meals whenever she wanted, and that she wasn’t an inactive participant in eating.
- Look for baby’s developmental cues. Like I mentioned above, when Bitsy Girl put things in her mouth, we gave her food to pick up and put in her mouth. She was glad to be able to control to amount of food and speed at which she was eating during her meals.
- Don’t fuss over baby when they are eating. This is the hardest one for some people I know. When our daughter is eating with us, we interact with her just like she were any other dinner company: we talk to her, we ask her how her meal is, and when she shows signs of fullness, we ask her if she is done. Other than that, we don’t fuss over her. She may get very messy. She may decide she doesn’t like the squash and put it next to her bowl. She may take a drink from her sippy cup and place it back in her bowl on top of food. And all of that is okay for us. There is always a warm, wet washcloth handy to clean our Bitsy Girl up after meals, and with Bruno, our floor clean up is minimal at best. I truly believe this is one of the reasons she is such a great independent eater.