Parenting is rather like a puzzle – it’s getting the pieces to fit together. Every family has its own unique puzzle to work through.

How do we avoid fussy eaters and how do we create good sleepers? For some families, eating and sleeping is not an issue, but for others it is a struggle. I always say that there is no right or wrong way to parent – but there are easy and hard ways. Parenting is a lifelong journey and encouraging both good eaters and sleepers is part of this.

How to create good sleepers…

In my experience, if babies and toddlers sleep well, they feed well.

Routines are debated around the world and the question is: what makes a routine? To me it is about flexibility and listening to your baby. I encourage parents when working towards a routine to try and work 30 minutes either side of what your ‘desired’ times are.

In my experience, it is the start of the day that sets the routine, not the evening routine, and if the last wake cycle is longer than the others this can or may contribute to night waking. My recommendation is that the wake cycles are kept consistent (80 per cent of the time) and, if there is a variance, the last wake cycle is no longer than the longest wake cycle.

Naps will vary in length but the goal here is to encourage in most cases two sleep cycles per nap.

There are many reasons why babies and toddlers wake at night. There is no simple answer but in my experience it is the daytime routine that makes the night routine.

…and good eaters

When introducing solids, the biggest concern I have is that we have too many professionals or professional charts showing fruit as the first foods. If you want a veggie-eater then get those vegetables in first. As well when introducing veggies, you need to offer a wide variety and in the beginning this will include the non-seasonal veggies as I find if you wait for them to come into season some babies will not easily accept them as one of the yummy ones.

If you are feeding purees to your baby, my suggestion is to offer the same food cooked as finger food next to their purees so that they can learn texture, taste and smell – this is important for when you stop pureeing as quite often the change from purees to finger food can stop a baby loving their veggies.

How long a baby or toddler can eat purees is a question I am often asked. My answer is as long as they want, as long as they are eating or seeing the finger food, too. If parents are concerned then I suggest they have the baby/toddler checked by a paediatrician to ensure nothing else is going on.

If your baby will not take the food from a spoon, use your finger and also ensure your baby isn’t over-tired or over-hungry – or just over it! – when introducing solids. Solids should be given in a calm environment; making a mess and doing just one clean-up at the end of the meal. Remember, fussiness can encourage irritability and babies not wanting to try eating.

Also, when starting with veggies, a lot of babies are put off by the taste of one veggie on their own, so I always encourage parents to start with one carb (like kumara, for example) and one other veggie, like pumpkin. Then when you are adding the yummy greens, add a smaller portion to the mix so that it adds a different taste but doesn’t overpower the base mix.

For older toddlers and children who have started to refuse their food at mealtimes, check out what foods and how much they are eating for snacks. More often than not they are processed, and by lunchtime most have had their two fruit servings. Remember, the guideline for fruit is two servings per day and for adults one serving.

If working with reflux babies who are having digestive issues, I tend to remove the following foods: apple, banana, kiwifruit, avocado, potato and carrot.

This is a guideline only, but it is amazing how if one or more of these these is a trigger we can end up with a happy, well-rested baby.

Older reflux babies can seem like fussy eaters as they become toddlers; however, often this is because they associate food with a sore tummy.

One way that I find works for the fussy feeder when they are older is to pop them in their bathtub, take a container like an old ice-cream container and fill it with food so that they can learn through play to enjoy food.

For night wakers, I also look at the foods they eat after lunch and often suggest removing fruit, processed sugars, yoghurt and cheese. Many parents who do this find their children are sleeping through the night before they know it.

One size doesn’t fit all

What works for one family won’t necessarily work for another. It is often a case of working with both sleep and food as these are the two nutrients that babies and toddlers need.

Once children are on solids, their night nutrient is sleep and their day nutrients are a mixture of food and sleep.

Remember to enjoy it; parenting is the toughest job in society – but is also the most rewarding.

Dorothy Waide is a Karitane mothercraft nurse and the author of You Simply Can’t Spoil a Newborn.

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