In one of the online mothering groups I belong to, one mother recently said her son was in a low percentile for weight and she was feeling extreme pressure for him to gain weight. As a result, meal times were now wrought with frustration and tears for both of them.
This instance really got me thinking about feeding and eating, and what a complex and foreign territory it is to all kiddos and parents.
At Pip’s 18 month check up, the doctor indicated that she was at the lower range of weight for her age group. While he wasn’t concerned, he said if it didn’t improve, we’d have to “do something.”
This made me anxious, mainly because I suspected I wouldn’t agree with his suggestions of “something” to do. In order to avoid the situation entirely, it was clear to me she needed to gain weight.
I don’t like that this was my reaction, but it was what it was. I already wrote about the use of fear in birth and I think pediatricians can sometimes use fear as well, either unintentionally or with good intentions. I’d rather receive concrete suggestions, or have more detailed discussions; maybe we needed to do a food diary, or perhaps there were other foods we could offer. This type of conversation would empower us and give us good options rather than leave us unsettled by a vague yet threatening ultimatum. Maybe still it would be good to remind myself (and the pediatrician) that the often-used growth charts are based upon formula-fed babies, who differ in growth than breastfed babies.
So I could totally relate to the other mother’s situation. The concern, however quiet, in the back of my head that she needs to eat more, scared me.
Practicing gentle parenting helped give me the tools to handle my anxiety about this and any food issues as they happened. Here’s how I help myself stay grounded when they pop up:
- Trust my daughter and follow her lead. If she’s hungry, feed her. If it’s meal time, or we’re out and it’s been a while, offer her food. I cannot force her to eat, and accepting this truth makes my life so much easier.
- Know that my job is to offer her a variety of healthy foods, and her job is to eat it. This are not my pearls of wisdom; I think the credit can go to Ruth Yaron but I can’t remember for sure. Either way, this knowledge is a lifeline in frustrating mealtime situations.
- Be aware of my thoughts and emotions as she’s eating. For instance, if she’s eating a potato I’ll catch myself wondering why she doesn’t eat the corn. If she’s eating the corn I wonder if it’s too much corn. Paying attention to these crazy thoughts help me see them for the mindless chatter that they are and let them go.
- Try to look at her diet has being balanced on a weekly basis rather than a daily basis. Whereas an adult may try to get so many servings of fruits, veggies and grains in one day, a baby or toddler’s appetite can fluctuate wildly from day-to-day, but over the course of the week they should more or less get the nutrition they require. Again this is not my pearl – I think the credit goes to a friend’s pediatrician.
- Pay attetion to what she likes and have it on hand. There are certain foods my daughter loves that I love to feed her: beans, corn, apples, potatoes, kiwis, bananas, strawberries, peas, among others. When I have them on hand, she’ll eat them. For instance, I used to give her goldfish in the car to help with her discomfort during car rides. One day I gave her leftover strawberries from her lunch, and to my surprise she ate them all and did not ask for any crackers. Now I never get in the car without a banana or apple for her.
- Think of food as medicine. It can heal and it can harm. Be cautious with the sugars, because it really is everywhere, and an excuse for a “special occasion” treat can be had on any day of the week. Watch for food allergies closely, and if she displays any odd behaviors (from her attitude to an upset stomach) consider that food could be the cause as well. Know the top three food allergens: dairy, gluten, eggs in case you need to try eliminating them.
Overall, our relationship with food is complex. Food is a tense subject in our culture and our country. I sometimes have to make an conscious effort to not create tension for my daughter with meals. My aim is for eating to be a pleasurable and fun event for us. I want to engage all our senses. I want to impart on her a love and appreciation of all types of food (not to be confused with food-like products!). I want mealtimes to be a time when we nourish our bodies and enjoy each other’s company.
And yeah, I would love for her to eat some carrots, too.
For what it’s worth, Pip’s 2 year appointment came and went, and the doctor never mentioned her weight, and I didn’t ask. :)
p.s. I am not a nutritionist or doctor or anyone even remotely approved to offer food / medicinal advice. Take this for what it’s worth: my experience. :)