babies are allowed to choose what they want (or need) to eat from the foods offered at mealtimes, and their parents are often surprised by how well balanced the baby’s chosen diet is over the course of a week or so. There has been little reliable research into whether babies really do know what to eat instinctively, but an extraordinary experiment in the 1920s and 1930s by an American pediatrician, Dr. Clara Davis, is certainly food for thought.
AT THE TIME OF THE RESEARCH.
Do Babies Know What to Eat? Many children refuse to eat foods that considered good for them. Most pediatricians gave parents strict instructions about what, how much, and how often their child was to be fed. But Dr. Davis suspected that it was this very strictness that was the cause of the problem and that telling or even forcing children to eat certain foods made things worse. She had a theory that babies knew best when it came to what they needed to eat.
She devised a “self-selection” diet for infants and young children to see what would happen if babies were allowed to choose what to eat for themselves. She studied 15 children for anywhere between six months and four and a half years; all the children were between seven and nine months old when the experiment started and had been exclusively breastfed up until that point.
we offer 33 foods for all the babies, with a slightly different selection laid out at each meal. we separate All the foods, mashed and unseasoned; combine foods such as bread and soup.
The babies could choose whatever they wanted from these foods, in any quantity. They either fed themselves or pointed to a dish and were spoon-fed by a nurse, who was not allowed to influence their decisions. If a child ate the whole portion of a particular food, more of the same food was provided until he or she eventually stopped eating.
scrutinize Meals in detail, so that the researchers could work out exactly what each child had eaten. take Blood and urine tests and X-rays to monitor the children’s health.
AT THE END OF THE EXPERIMENT.
Dr. Davis discovered that each child had chosen an extremely well-balanced diet. They were all well nourished and healthy even those who hadn’t been at the start and they all ate a greater variety and quantity of food than was considered normal for their age. Their weight gain was above average, and they were largely free from many of the deficiency diseases (such as rickets) and other illnesses that were common at the time.
However, each child’s combination of foods was unique and unpredictable there wasn’t anything approaching an “average” diet. For example, some chose to eat lots of fruit while others seemed to prefer meat; food crazes or bingeing were common (one toddler apparently ate seven eggs in one day!) All the children were also willing to try unfamiliar foods. None of them chose the cereal and milk-based diet that babies were “supposed” to eat at the time.
According to Dr. Davis, part of the reason the children were all so well-nourished was that only nutritious, unprocessed foods were provided there were no rich, fatty, or sugary foods. But simply providing a selection of good foods didn’t guarantee a balanced diet. Any of the children studied could still have decided to limit their diet by avoiding meat, or fruit and vegetables, for example and become ill as a result. But they all ate enough of each type of food to ensure the right balance.
THE RESULTS OF THE EXPERIMENT.
However, the results of the experiment aren’t reliable enough to prove that Dr. Davis’s theory is true. (It was a small study, and most of the data were lost and it will never be repeated because her methods would be considered unethical today.) But the experiment became widely known at the time it was even included in some editions of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s best-selling parenting books in the 1940s and 1950s and gradually the limited infant diet that had been so common went out of fashion.
DO BABIES KNOW WHAT TO EAT? STORY.
Our second child, Saskia, would sit on my lap while we ate and she started reaching for food from our plates when she was almost six months. She was happy grabbing food and putting it in her mouth, so we sort of intuitively did BLW without really thinking about it. And later I realized there were other people who were doing it and it had a name. It is so easy; mothers must have been doing it, especially with second babies, for generations.
In retrospect, I think our first child, Lily, was reaching for food, but we just did what is accepted wisdom for feeding babies we spoon-fed her. We’d take turns; one of us would eat, and the other would feed Lily.
Baby-led weaning is quicker and easier and messier. It is messy. But spoon-feeding is complicate. It’s another little thing to be slightly anxious about. And it’s boring we were always either preparing food, or feeding, or cleaning up. This seems to be much more just enjoying mealtimes and playing. It’s much more relaxed.
Suzanne, mother of Lily, 3, and Saskia, 14 months.