When your baby begins eating solid foods, you may find yourself with all sorts of questions: When she pushes the spoon away, does it mean that she’s full or that she doesn’t like mashed peas? Will feeding her a few extra bites keep her from getting hungry before morning? Can that same subtle encouragement lead to obesity?
What every parent should know is that babies have terrific built-in systems for gauging when they need food and when they’ve had enough. If you let your child follow the cues of her natural appetite, she’ll eat what she needs to fuel her growth and development without overdoing it.
While her appetite can vary from day to day, it’s best to stick to a general schedule for offering meals and snacks. If she picks at her food or mostly ignores a meal, don’t force her to eat, as she’ll likely make up for it at the next meal or the next day.
Signs That Your Baby Is Hungry
Opening her hands, opening her mouth. A hungry baby is an eager one. If you make an exaggerated expression with your eyes and mouth wide open as you bring a spoonful of food toward your baby, she’s especially likely to imitate you and eat willingly.
Reaching for a spoon. Not only does your bright baby want to do everything that you do, like master holding that spoon, but she knows from experience what’s in the spoon. And when she’s hungry, she wants it right now.
Pointing to food. Gesturing is a key way your baby communicates before she’s able to say words like “applesauce!” or “cracker!”
Acting excited when food is served. Your baby associates food with the happy feeling of having her hunger satisfied. So when food appears and she’s hungry for it, she may wave her arms, kick her legs, and smile at the sight of it.
Using words or gestures to communicate readiness to eat. By about 10 months, your baby may make sounds to express hunger—“ba ba!” for bottle, for example, or mmm sounds! She may point to her high-chair tray or to her mouth when she sees the food. This action lets you know right where she wants it to go.
Signs That Your Baby Is Full
Closing her mouth and refusing to open it. Whether the food is liquid or solid, if her lips are clamped, it’s a sure sign that your baby isn’t interested in having more of it.
Turning her head away. A baby who isn’t self-feeding yet will turn away from an approaching spoon when she’s full.
Slowing the pace of feeding. At the start of a meal, your hungry baby will polish off the small portions you provide and eagerly accept more. By the end of a meal, though, she may not finish what you give her. She may dawdle more, and less food will actually make it into her mouth.
Pushing food away. When your child has had enough, she may ignore the food completely or start to play with it. If it winds up in her hair, smeared all over her high-chair tray, or on the floor, these are pretty reliable signs that she has eaten enough.
Shaking head. Older babies and toddlers may gesture emphatically to make their desires known, especially when their answer is “No!” It’s not always easy to know whether your child is expressing dislike of a particular food or if she’s just full. But if she shows other signs of disinterest, and if she’s refusing what’s normally a favorite, chances are good that she has had enough and is ready to move on to the next activity.