Even when it comes to starting complementary nutrition, the fundamental teaching that can be learned from Montessori pedagogy is always the same: “help me to do (to eat) alone”. All the information in a book from the Montessori Birth Center
Less industrial food, recovery of traditions and more attention to food quality, but above all a different conception of the child, intended as the protagonist and director of both breastfeeding and weaning. In a nutshell, these are the indications that emerge from the volume Help me eat alone! The nutrition of children from 0 to 3 years, published for Il Leone Verde by the Montessori Birth Center. The cure is of Franco De Luca, community pediatrician now retired, president of the Center and UNICEF trainer, to whom we had already asked for clarification on the subject of self-weaning.
The book’s starting point is the reflection that many of the indications on feeding children received in recent years from authoritative agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are entirely in line with Maria Montessori’s thinking. . Hence the idea of promoting a diet that De Luca defines in the book responsive feeding, both as regards breastfeeding (to which a chapter of the book is dedicated), and for weaning.
In this article
Responsive nutrition, what it is and how it works
As explained in the introduction to the volume, responsive nutrition is based on five fundamental points:
- feed infants directly and assist older children when they eat alone, showing attention to their cues of hunger and satiety
- feed slowly and patiently, encouraging children to eat, but without forcing them
- if children refuse a lot of food, experiment with different combinations of food, flavors, textures and methods of encouragement
- minimize distractions during meals if the child easily loses interest
- remember that the times of eating are also periods of learning and love (talk to children during meals, maintaining eye-to-eye contact).
What are the basic principles of Montessori weaning? Franco De Luca’s answer, in this podcast.
When to start
De Luca recalls that according to WHO / UNICEF solid and semi-solid foods should not be introduced into the diet of infants until the sixth month of life (and obviously the ideal for this period would be breastfeeding). Despite this, many babies start to be weaned earlier, in the third or fourth month.
In any case, what is really important is to observe and accompany the new development goals reached by the child, also responding to the change of his interests. This is why De Luca insists that the term weaning should be abandoned in favor of expression complementary power supply on request.
According to the indications of the volume Help me eat alone !, it is only at the age of six months that it becomes easier to feed babies with solid and semi-solid foods because:
- they show interest in other people who eat and try to reach for food
- they love to put things in their mouths
- I am able to control my tongue and move food into my mouth better
- they begin to move their jaws up and down, “chewing” even without teeth
- the digestive system is mature enough to begin digesting new and different foods
Instead, they are false signals, which are not enough to start offering solid and semi-solid foods:
- suck fist
- waking up in the night when he had stopped doing it before
- the increased demand for milk compared to usual
What to feed
“With the launch ofcomplementary nutrition parents have the opportunity to transmit to their little ones eating habits based on the use of foods useful for growth and energy production, and beneficial to health. This is what mothers have always tried to do over the centuries, even when the availability of food was scarce “, explains De Luca in one of the chapters of the book.
“Foods tested for generations and generations in different geographical and cultural contexts were also adapted to the chewing and swallowing skills of the little ones. Taste was built on the ability to explore and recognize the flavors of the foods of one’s social context and, therefore, on the possibility for children of discover slowly what the family ate“.
In this sense, there are no major foreclosures regarding the food to be provided to the child. “The child can eat anything – writes De Luca – except sugary drinks and industrial sweet foods, honey before the year of life, foods that are too salty such as cured meats, French fries, foods cooked with cube and cow’s milk before of the six months of life “. (Warning: there are those who believe that cow’s milk is contraindicated for the entire first year of life). Obviously, alcohol and drinks containing exciting substances should also be avoided.
For this reason, weaning time should be a good time for the whole family to review their eating habits.
But beware: according to the book’s indications, the fact that the child can eat (almost) everything does not mean that he must eat everything at the same time. In the preface Grace Honegger Fresco, direct pupil of Maria Montessori in one of her last courses, stresses that for the child they are fundamental order and continuity in the moment of transition between known and unknown as is that of weaning. For this it would be better to avoid too many changes all at once (of flavors, textures, posture, people, times and so on).