Many of my friends are new moms and have babies between four and six months of age, so they’re beginning to feed them solids. The question I’m always asked is, “How do I know when he’s had enough?”
Recent research shows that infants are born with an instinct, referred to as their appestat, which sends a “stop eating” signal to the part of the brain that controls appetite. Trusting this inborn sense about how much food will satisfy his appetite lays the foundation for good eating habits for the rest of his life.
To heed your baby’s appestat, pay close attention to when he signals he’s full. Here are clues to look for:
Spits out nipple or falls asleep
Six to twelve months:
Turns head away to regulate pace or end feeding
Refuses to open mouth
Spits out food
Stores food in mouth
Pushes dish, cup, or bottle away
One to two years:
Shakes head no
Puts hand over mouth
Pushes away the hand that offers food
Uses simple words like “No,” “Don’t,” or “Away”
Pushes away or throws plate, cup, or spoon
Two to three years:
Combines words, “All done” or “Get down”
Pushes away plate
Tries to remove bib
Infants and toddlers who are allowed to follow their hunger and satiety cues, eating only as much as their bodies need for good health, will develop habits of moderation that should last a lifetime; however, as important as it is to let the child judge how much food he wants, it can be one of the most difficult things for a parent to do.
If a child’s natural “appestat” breaks down because he is frequently encouraged to eat when he is full, feeding problems can develop and determining when and how much to eat may become a battle between parent and child. Remember that many parents tend to give infants and toddlers larger portions than necessary—and then expect them to finish all the food on their plates. Always start with small portions—then let your little one show you in his own way if he wants more.