Feeding Patterns of a Child during the First Year of Life
Infants experience rapid growth during first year of life, and it is the same period children develop eating patterns. In the first year, infant change from eating one food, that is, breast or formula milk to different foods typical in the adult diet (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007). During this transition, infants learn about food through observation and direct experience. Studies have found that breastfeeding and parental guidance in toddlerhood has a significant influence on eating behavior later in life. Even children who are not breastfeed still learn from the feeding habits of their parents. It is recommended that infants should be breastfeed for a minimum period of six months (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007).
Factors That Influence Feeding in Infants
A study done by Betoko, Charles and Hankard et al. found that infant feeding is characterized by three patterns. The first pattern is “late introduction of complimentary foods and use of ready-made baby food”. The second pattern was “Longer breastfeeding, late introduction of complimentary foods and use of home-made foods”. The third pattern is “Use of adults’ foods” (Betoko, Charles, & Hankard, 2013). The study found that older mothers who are educated with a high income are more likely to use the first pattern of feeding. The second pattern of feeding was common among older and educated mothers, while younger women, who have experienced childbirth before preferred the third pattern (Betoko, Charles, & Hankard, 2013).
Mothers who breastfeed for a longer duration are more likely to introduce infants to complementary foods much later. This trend is common in older educated women. Early introduction to complementary foods is commonly observed among younger women with lower levels of education (Betoko, Charles, & Hankard, 2013). Studies have also shown that male infants are normally introduced to complementary foods earlier in life compared to girls. Mothers that return to work soon after birth breastfeed for a short period. In addition, infants taken care of by non-parents are more likely to experience shorter breastfeeding and earlier introduction to complimentary foods (Betoko, Charles, & Hankard, 2013).
The study by Betoko, Charles and Hankard et al. also found connection between breastfeeding patterns and the body max index of the mother. Studies have shown that overweight/obese women are more likely to stop breastfeeding earlier than other women are (Betoko, Charles, & Hankard, 2013). Studies have also shown that parental behavior influences an infant’s eating behavior in different ways. Parents are often tasked with the responsibility of making food choices on the behalf of the family; parent act as a guide for dietary decisions and patterns; and parent utilize certain feeding practices to assist children in developing behavior and eating patterns they consider appropriate. The characteristic of a child such as age, weight, gender and eating habits influences parenting practices (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007).
Throughout history food scarcity has been one of the major factors that has posed threat to the health and development of infants. This has made most society to consider big infants as a sign of good health and effective parenting. Consequently, the feeding habits in these societies are meant to increase the amount of food an infant consumes and promote weight gain (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007). If this approach is used in societies with abundant food, infants are more likely to be put on unhealthy diet, gain excessive weight, and develop obesity. The tendency of parents to prefer bigger infants has also influenced their perception regarding food portion and energy requirement for infants. Parents participating in a study reported that they gave their children big portion of foods rich in energy, and it can negatively influence eating habits and weight (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007).
Infants also develop their eating habit from observing those of others. For instance, studies have shown that the consumption of fruits, milk, and vegetable among children went up after observing an adult do the same. Hence, social modeling is considered indirect, but successful way of encouraging children to adopt healthy diets (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007). Parents who are worried about the food their children are eating may try to rectify the situation by restricting the amount of food they eat, force their children to consume healthy diet, or reward children for choosing health foods. Experts have observed that these practices can lead to unintended consequences (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007).
For example, restricting children from taking certain foods may make them consume such foods in large quantities when they are available. On the same note, studies have shown that pressuring children to take fruits and vegetables lowers their intake, and make them take large amounts of dietary fat (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007). This is an indication that regardless of the reason parents use to restrict the intake of certain foods; too much pressure can have a negative effect on a child’s eating habits and weight. On the contrary, it has been noted that authoritarian feeding approach that lays emphasis on eating habits while responding to eating cues may encourage healthier eating behavior (Birch, Savage, & Ventura, 2007).
Conclusions and Recommendations
A review of literature indicates that feeding patterns during the first year of life in infants is influenced by a variety of factors. One of the factors that affects feeding pattern in the first year of life among infants is the feeding approach used. Infants who are breastfed for a long time are more likely to be introduced to complimentary foods much later. Older educated mothers commonly use this feeding approach. On the other hand, infants who are breastfed for a short time are more likely to be introduced to complimentary foods much earlier, and this feeding approach is associated with younger mothers with less education. Male children are likely to be introduced to complimentary foods earlier than their female counterparts are.
It is recommended that parents should breastfeed infants for at least the required minimum duration, which is six months. Infants should not be introduced to complimentary foods earlier than six months or too late. A second factor that influence infant feeding patterns during the first year of life is the feeding habit of the parents. Children learn through social modeling, and if parents make healthy food choices, children are more likely to do the same. However, parents are cautioned that they should not pressurize their children to adhere to strict dietary guidelines because it can have unintended consequences. For instance, children forced to eat fruits and vegetables eat less of these foods, and children denied certain foods eat excess when they have the chance. The recommended approach is authoritarian feeding that emphasizes on good eating habits while responding to a child’s eating cues.
Betoko, A., Charles, M.-A., & Hankard, R. (2013). Infant feeding patterns over the first year of life: influence of family characteristics. Eur J Clin Nutr. Jun; 67(6) , 631–637.
Birch, L., Savage, J. S., & Ventura, A. (2007). Influences on the Development of Children’s Eating Behaviours: From Infancy to Adolescence. Can J Diet Pract Res., 68(1), s1–s56.