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February 9, 2012
Give it a Rest, Baby Knows Best

We tend to think of babies who don't cooperate according to our sleep schedules and our expectations (i.e. eating habits) as a "problem." And if you don't address these "problems," then some so-called experts predict all sorts of potential consequences will develop. The truth is, baby knows best. Parents just need to give their egos a break and let these little bundles of joy decide what is best for themselves, because they know better than most adults.

Enough With The Spoon Fed Puree Already

Some parents constantly have the need to spoon feed puree to their children even well after they have teeth. This is usually due to the fear of choking and gagging. A new study by psychologists at The University of Nottingham has shown that babies who are weaned using solid finger food are more likely to develop healthier food preferences and are less likely to become overweight as children than those who are spoon-fed pureed food.

The research just published by BMJ Open set out to examine the impact of weaning style on food preferences and Body Mass Index in early childhood in a sample of 155 children.

Co-author of the study, Associate Professor in the School of Psychology, Dr Ellen Townsend, said: "Although numerous studies have focused on when to introduce solid foods into an infant's diet there is a dearth of evidence concerning the impact of different weaning methods on food preferences and health prospects. We believe our report is the first piece of research to examine whether weaning method can influence food preferences and the future health of the child."

Co-researcher Dr Nicola Pitchford, added: "Our study has produced some very interesting findings. The research suggests that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking of foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition, such as carbohydrates. Baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood which may protect against obesity."

The researchers enlisted the Nottingham Toddler Lab, based in the School of Psychology, and various relevant websites to recruit parent volunteers for the study. They all had children between the ages of 20 months and 6½ years and agreed to complete a questionnaire about their experiences of infant feeding and weaning style. 92 parents used baby-led weaning in which the baby is allowed to feed him or herself from a range of solid finger food after the age of 6 months. 63 parents surveyed used traditional spoon-feeding in which they fed their babies smooth purees and increased the texture and range of foods as they grew.

The study also examined the child's preference for 151 different types of food in the common food categories of carbohydrates, proteins and dairy etc. It also took into account the frequency of consumption of each food type and the effect of age on food preference.

Between the two weaning groups, significant differences in preference were found for only one food category -- the baby-led group liked carbohydrates more than the spoon-fed group. In fact, carbohydrates was the most liked food category for the baby-led group whereas sweet foods was most liked by the spoon-fed group.

The psychologists believe that understanding the factors that contribute to healthy nutrition in early childhood is crucial as this could be the best time to modify food preferences to encourage healthy diets. The findings show that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking of carbohydrates -- foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition. This is a significant result since, up to now, the factors thought to be most influential on early food preferences are sweetness and frequency of exposure.

It was found that children's preference and rate of exposure to foods were not influenced by socially desirable responding, i.e. parents putting down what they think they should report, or socio-economic status, although an increased liking of vegetables was associated with higher social class. There was an increased incidence of underweight children in the baby-led group and higher obesity rates in the spoon-fed group. But, no difference in picky eating was found between the two weaning groups.

The research project concludes that weaning style does have an impact on food preferences and health in early childhood. The results suggest that infants weaned through the baby-led method learn to regulate their food intake in a way which leads to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates. The research team believe their work has important implications for combating the well-documented rise of obesity in contemporary society.

If Your Baby's Night Waking Is a Problem, You're The Problem

Night waking is the parents' problem, not the baby's problem. That meshes with the finding from some academic research led by psychologist Lynn Loutzenhiser of the University of Regina. From the moms’ accounts, they found that 72 percent of their kids were not sleeping through the night, and 53 percent were waking two or more times most nights. According to the criteria researchers use, half of these night wakers had a “sleep problem.” Yet only one-quarter of the moms described their children’s sleep as a “problem.”

So there’s a disconnect between the experts’ and the moms’ views of what constitutes problem sleep, which is interesting. But there are differences between those moms who did and those who didn’t rate their children’s night walking as troublesome. It partly had to do with the intensity of the night waking -- how often and for how long the baby woke up, and how long it took him to fall asleep at bedtime. But two of the big factors related to how mom was doing -- specifically, whether she felt she was getting enough sleep and could function during the daytime. Women who did were half as likely to call the night waking a problem than those who did not. No surprise there, except perhaps to those sleep experts who insist on seeing night waking as a baby-behaviour issue.

For parents, the findings suggest two things. First, how night waking affects you is important -- at least as important as your child’s sleep behaviour, if not more so. In most cases, the kids are fine in the end; babies generally get their sleep one way or another, and can anyone look at a bunch of 10-year-olds and tell which kids were good sleepers as babies and which weren’t? Sleep experts hint darkly at long-term risks connected to night waking, but none of the studies they cite makes a direct link between the two.

If night waking is having a significant impact on you, though, that in itself is a legitimate reason for getting help or doing whatever you feel you have to do (and that might include some form of sleep training) to ease that.

Second, if you can find a way to live with night waking, one that allows you to get enough rest and function during the day (napping, going to bed early, trading sleep-ins with your partner), that’s a legitimate solution, even if you don’t “fix” your baby’s “sleep behaviour.” Night waking ends eventually, almost no matter what parents do or don’t do.

Focusing on your own well-being may also help you banish the toxic mix of guilt and self-doubt that can be one of the biggest stressors parents of night wakers have to deal with. Once you stop kicking yourself over night waking, it will be a little easier to cope.

Night waking is a family problem, not a baby-behaviour problem.



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