Common Age: Birth to 6 months
Almost every infant spits up, says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health (Bantam). It usually happens because a baby's digestive system is still immature. An infant's esophageal sphincter -- the muscle that holds in the stomach contents -- doesn't close tightly like an older child's does. As a result, it's easy for a baby's most recent meal to splash back up, so be prepared to do a few extra loads of laundry from now on.
Usually, spit-up is nothing to worry about. If your baby is gaining the proper amount of weight and your pediatrician says he's thriving, then you know he's getting enough to eat. Another strong sign that your baby is well fed is six to 10 wet diapers per day. To reduce spit-up episodes, feed your baby only when he shows signs of hunger, keep him in a semi-upright position during feeding, and burp him regularly throughout the meal. It's also a good idea to sit him upright and minimize jostling for half an hour after feeding.
Occasionally, lots of spitting up is something more than just a nuisance. If a baby is not gaining weight, is crying excessively, is choking, or seems to be in a lot of pain, he may have a serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which your doctor can diagnose by charting your child's weight gain and overall symptoms. If your child does have GERD, your doctor may prescribe him an acid-reducing medication. Fortunately, GERD or not, most children outgrow spitting up between 6 months and 1 year of age.
Common Age: 4 to 12 months
It's a dilemma many moms face. But despite the fact that your baby is graduating to solids, says Roberts, breast milk or formula is still a very important part of your baby's diet, particularly because milk fat is essential for brain development and the calcium helps build strong teeth and bones. That said, it is safe and healthy to slowly reduce the amount your baby drinks. When you look at how thriving babies split their intake, there is a wide range of normal; as long as your baby is growing normally while eating and drinking within these parameters, you have nothing to worry about.
So which should you give first, milk or solids? There are varying opinions, but experts recommend starting out with breast milk or formula, saving solids for a second course, and washing them down with more milk. The reason? If your baby is very hungry, he may be too distracted to concentrate on maneuvering solids in his mouth and may reject them.
Common Age: 10 months to 2 years
Nothing is more exciting to a baby than the discovery that she has mobility, so most crawlers would rather get up and go than sit down and eat. And since young children have little stomachs, eating small bits throughout the day enables them to take in the number of calories they need to keep them revved up. But, Roberts warns, it can be hard to get healthy food into a child who grazes, because meal food tends to be more nutritious than snacks. So if you have a grazer, put the same amount of thought into her snack foods as you do into each meal, and consider each snack a course of a daylong meal. Vitamin- and mineral-rich fun foods like cereal, banana bits, or cheese sticks are great choices.
Also remember that it's never too early to develop good eating habits. Experts recommend sitting down with the family for at least one meal a day. So do continue to try to get your mover and shaker into the high chair for a few minutes at a time. Around the 2-year mark, entice your little one to spend more time at the table by having snack time just twice a day and offering a wide array of choices at mealtime.
Common Age: 12 months to 3 years
According to nutrition experts, this is nothing to worry about. For the most part, children are better than adults at monitoring their hunger. While adults tend to eat because food is in front of us or we're bored, a young child is innately in touch with his appetite. Moreover, children's second and third years are prime times for rapid growth spurts that may encourage what seems like binge eating. These episodes will ebb and flow as your child grows. The bottom line? Don't put yourself through torture trying to get your child to eat.
Set a reasonable time limit for your child to eat his meal, and then move on, suggests Kathleen Zelman, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Make sure, too, that your child isn't drinking all of his calories; too much milk or juice could quash her appetite for food. Three or four ounces of juice a day is enough. To wean a child from the juice-all-day habit, slowly dilute each cup until she's used to drinking water whenever she's thirsty, suggests Roberts. It's important for children to get the nutrients that dairy provides, but it doesn't all have to come from milk. Children this age need four half-cup servings of dairy a day, so serve healthy choices such as yogurt as part of your child's meals.
Sometimes, little ones will have a few favorite foods -- and will eat nothing else! The idea of living on one food for months seems impossible to an adult, but for toddlers, it's par for the course. Because they thrive on familiarity, eating the same thing at each meal is a source of comfort. Insisting on one food and refusing all others is also a way for toddlers to test boundaries with their parents, explains Zelman.
Try not to act overly concerned; that can lead children to use food as an attention-getter. And if you are worried, keep a food diary of your child's intake over a week or two and show it to your pediatrician so she can help you determine if your child is getting enough to eat.
For the most part, as long as your child is growing normally, there is no harm in a temporarily limited diet. But to be sure she is getting a wide enough range of nutrients, a daily multivitamin is key. And in a no-pressure way, do continue to introduce small amounts of new foods to her plate along with old favorites, even if they go untouched. Eventually, a toddler's natural curiosity should make her try out new foods, says Zelman.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.