I broke down sobbing at my daughter’s pediatrician when she was 4 weeks old. She had lost interest in breastfeeding and the good doctor confirmed what I already knew: she was not gaining enough weight.
We struggled through each feeding — and I still couldn’t get my arms around how something so natural could be so painstakingly difficult. I was learning an important lesson in motherhood: feeding my child would take more time, energy, and emotional investment than I had ever imagined.
She wouldn’t take the breast and I wanted her to — and therein lies the struggle.
We got through this first crisis thanks to a pump and sheer determination on my part. But the fear that my child wasn’t getting enough to eat, or the right nutrition, would continually rear its ugly head and tempt me to feed in ways that are counterproductive for my kids.
The questions every parent asks
Ultimately every parent asks themselves the following questions: Is my son getting enough to eat? Is my daughter getting too much to eat? Is my son meeting his nutritional needs?
When these questions are confirmed with low or high body weight, certain food groups that are left uneaten, barely touched meals for days or plates wiped clean with begging for more, the panic sets in.
It’s almost like parents (especially moms) have an alarm that goes off when their child’s eating gets off-kilter.
Not getting the right answer
Ultimately when feeding goes wrong we find ourselves in the position I was in at the pediatrician’s office: in search of answers. When I asked the doctor what to do she said to give formula. And that was not the right answer. For me.
You see, I had already done my research. I knew that if I supplemented with formula that my milk supply would go down. But my doctor was trying to save me the time of pumping and even tried to tempt me with more sleep. But I didn’t care about sleep — I just wanted to save our breastfeeding relationship. If I did everything I could, and it still didn’t work out, then I would give formula.
Think of all the not-so-helpful answers you get when you inquire about your child’s eating:
“He’s fine, all kids are picky”
“He’ll grow out of his weight — did you see pictures of me when I was a kid?”
“Don’t worry about it — he won’t starve.”
Really doesn’t help.
One of the reasons these questions arise in the first place is parents are not prepared for feeding. We are usually told to give “kids a healthy start” and “breastfeeding is best” but this advice doesn’t always translate to the real world. Like a lot of pregnant women, I spent my time agonizing over my baby registry and the birth itself instead of the thing that would consume me for years after the birth — nourishing my child.
Following intuition doesn’t always work
Without the right preparation and answers to feeding problems, parents make decisions on their own. But what I have found with feeding is that what seems like the right answer at face value often is not. Once you dig in and find all the information, the right answer is usually counterintuitive. Here are some examples:
Your baby/toddler all of a sudden eats less at meals and you immediately offer something else. A better strategy? Because growth slows around 1-year children may not be as hungry, feed regular meals and snacks but let them decide how much to eat.
Your toddler in preschool is a picky eater so you put pressure on them at mealtime. A better strategy? Because pressure makes kids less interested in eating, make mealtimes pleasant and not about what and how much they are eating.
Your child has a low weight so you let them graze and eat whenever they seem slightly hungry. A better strategy? Grazing on food means kids never get hungry. Feed them at regular intervals so they have an appetite for meals (and eat better).
Your school-aged child is obsessed with sweets so you limit them and keep a very tight control when eaten. A better strategy? Because restricting feeding practices are associated with eating more and increased weight, find a consistent way to offer sweets so that it works for you and your child.
I’m revisiting this post now that my kids are now 8 and 10, and I keep writing about the feeding challenges that come up. My oldest is starting on the road to puberty so I’m learning all I can about this stage.
For me, that’s what that very early lesson with my daughter taught me: be prepared.
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