Pleasurable feedings lay a groundwork for infant health as well as fostering a lifelong positive relationship with food. While the time spent in the NICU allows infants to learn the skills necessary for eating, it also initiates the process of learning. It is imperative that early feedings focus not only on achieving the volume necessary to grow, but also on the pleasurable experiences of eating so that the infant learns that eating is enjoyable. At approximately 2 months post term, the early primitive eating behaviors transition to a voluntary eating behavior. For infants whose early experiences have been painful, uncomfortable, or extremely unpleasant, this transition period may result in a deterioration of the feeding experience as well as diminished volume. It is for this reason that Feeding Fundamentals, LLC focuses on the holistic feeding experience. When good skills, efficiency and endurance are coupled with pleasurable experiences, improved safety and volume will follow.
Pleasurable feedings are also important for the parent-infant relationship. We spend more time feeding our infants than doing anything else with them – more time than dressing, talking, bathing, etc. When feedings are pleasurable, parents and infants enjoy the experience and each other. When feedings become something everyone dreads, it impacts the parent-infant relationship. Many studies, as well as the publications of Dr. Ross, show that parents teach infants and infants teach parents. When infants are struggling to eat, parents begin to change how they feed their infant. For example, parents may see that their infant does not resist bottles when they are somewhat sleepy. As a result, parents may try to get their baby to sleep in hopes of getting them to eat more volume. Many times, the parent does not even realize that their behaviors are changing. Unfortunately, many of these short-term “fixes” do not work for long. For instance, in this example while rocking or singing your baby to sleep so that they don’t fight the bottle may seem like a good idea, it does not work for long. Babies spend more time awake as they get older, so it is more difficult to get them to eat enough to grow. Also, this only works for breast/bottle feeding. Your baby cannot eat solid foods while sleeping.
One key point is that we need to first understand why eating is so difficult for your baby. This requires a good assessment of both the medical and learned skills required to eat safely and comfortably. We highly encourage you to get help from a professional if your infant is not eating well, or if feeding them is stressful. Professionals such as speech pathologists or occupational therapists often specialize in helping infants with medical conditions learn to eat safely. The content provided here is intended to provide general information and resources and is not intended to diagnose or treat your infant directly.