Reading The CuesHow much food should your baby eat? Follow her lead: If she closes her mouth, turns away, slaps the spoon down, or, as Hank does, jams her fist in her mouth so there's no room for a spoon, she's full. "Babies are born with the ability to self-regulate how much food they need and will eat only that amount," says Murkoff. "If you try to force food into her, meals will become a power struggle, which may lay a foundation for future eating problems."
Don't be surprised if you notice your baby's appetite varying from day to day. "Sometimes she may be too busy crawling around and exploring her environment to want to sit still and eat. Other days, if she's going through a growth spurt, for instance, she may eat so much that you think she's going to burst," says Dr. Elbirt.
Whether your baby eats a lot or a little at a meal, one thing's for sure: She's going to make a mess. No matter how fastidious you try to be, she'll find creative ways to smear herself silly. Hank treats any food that drops on his tray like finger paint, then wipes his gooey hands on his cheeks. He also thinks it's fun to try to grab the spoon out of my hand and shake it, flinging green gobs of peas and yellow clumps of squash all over himself, the high chair, and me.
And while I could do without the cleanup that follows, I don't really mind it that much -- the bigger the mess Hank makes, the more he seems to enjoy his meals. Which makes them more enjoyable for me, too.
Alison Bell is a freelance writer and mother of three in South Pasadena, California.