Did You Make This Feeding Mistake the First 2 Years?

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on January 9, 2012

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Even though it was over 5 years ago, I’ll never forget my first experience feeding my daughter.  The nurse helped her latch and I couldn’t help but feel how unnatural it all felt.  We had to wake her up for feedings, it was excruciatingly painful and she seemed to hate it.  And I absolutely dreaded every single feeding.

One of the lactation consultants I hired (long story, but I went through many) told me that my daughter didn’t like to breastfeed because it wasn’t a place she wanted to be.  In a hormonal sleep-deprived fit, I thought to myself “so in addition to getting her to latch, dealing with sore nipples and making sure she get enough to eat, I also had to make this fun?”

But now I understand what the lady was saying.  In hindsight, Big A’s refusing to breastfeed at 7 weeks was the best thing that happened to us.  I still gave her breast milk through a bottle but we finally got to enjoy and connect during the feeding process. 

Problems then = problems now

Even after she refused to breastfeed I kept offering Big A the breast.  But this time there was no pressure and I even stopped caring if she would take it or not.  And then, when she was 4 months old, she started to breastfeed.  I couldn’t believe it!

When it came to feeding solids, I made sure to let Big A take the lead and keep feeding pleasant.  But had I not learned that lesson, I wonder if things would have been different for us.  This is what happened to Lori and her daughter.  They went through an experience, early on, where her milk supply was low and her daughter wasn’t gaining weight.  Even though that problem got resolved, feeding continued to be a game of cat and mouse in order to get her thin but normal growing 3-year-old to eat.

The thing about early feeding experiences is that they tend to color later feeding experiences.  Once Lori realized this, she was able to let go of pushing food on her daughter and the dynamic around feeding greatly improved. 

 toddlernutrition

What gets missed in the right and wrongs

I’m in the process of researching infant feeding for Fearless Feeding and all of the decisions that go along with it.  There’s whether or not to make baby food, when to start solids (4 vs. 6 months) and the new option of baby-led weaning where purees are totally skipped (see this post for a review).

But what I think gets lost in the quest for the perfect food for baby are the most basic needs of feeding. Babies need their nutritional needs met and they need to be challenged with texture and have opportunities to transition to self-feeding but they also need to feel in sync with the person feeding them.

So a mom can spend hours making the perfect purees, but if she’s shoveling food in without looking at her baby for signs of hunger, fullness and enjoyment, feeding is not going so well.  And another mom can be hell-bent on baby-led weaning to find her baby isn’t thriving this way and is one of those “late to self-feed” kids (this was my son!).  Or the baby may want to self-feed but the mom doesn’t want to lose the “nutrition control” that spoon feeding offers.

The mistake that is often made early on is forgetting (or simply not being told!) that feeding is about much more than getting the right foods into our children — it’s about connection and having both child and parent be part of the process.  Even when little one’s desires and needs fail to match our expectations. 

The good news is it’s never to late to change the feeding relationship to one that’s positive and reciprocal.

I’m sure you remember (or you may be doing it now) what it was like when you starting feeding solids.  What resources or information did you need that you didn’t get?  What would’ve really helped you? If you want privacy contact me here.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

goodfountain January 9, 2012 at 10:02 am

Hi Maryann, the biggest thing with my son (16 months) is that he did not like pureed foods. I dutifully tried at 6 months and he refused. After a few days of trying, I backburnered it for 2 weeks and then tried again. And then backburnered it for another 2 weeks when he still wouldn’t eat. I started doing some reading and read about babyled weaning. It seemed like that’s what was happening naturally. When he was 7 months I gave him a whole apple (peeled) and just let him gnaw away. I did that on and off over the next month but it it was very stressful because I always worried about choking. Around 8ish months he was able to pick up Cheerios and so I let him eat those.

The information on found on parent forums (not from an “expert” site like yours) was that it was normal for some babies to not like pureed food and so don’t sweat it. I intuitively knew not to try to force him, but I didn’t find much expert support out there for that. Does that make sense?

At 16 months, he still doesn’t like pureed food or anything too soft or mushy. Except beans – the boy loves his beans and lentils! Now that he’s got some molars in, I’m giving him cut up apple and he’s starting to eat it. Barely. He doesn’t otherwise eat any fruit.

Anyway – I’m kind of rambling. Sorry. The gist of what I wanted to say though was that I had a guy who refused pureed foods and didn’t really start eating solids till he was 8 months and could self feed. (Ironically, he loves for me to feel him with a spoon now. He hands me his spoon all the time and then opens his mouth. LOL.)

Anne at Always Half Full January 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

My biggest struggle was knowing about how much puree was a good amount. And then when chewable foods were added to the menu, about how much of all of it was a good amount. The only information I came across was attached to advertisements for baby food (I made my own but received all the fliers and ads for store bought) – which seemed to be way too much for a child that age (possibly a tactic to keep you buying more of their food).
I know every child is different because every child has a different appetite, size, interest, etc. But is there a recommended amount for ages, weights? I just wanted to know so I didn’t under- or overfeed my baby. And I’m due with another in April so I’ll need to know for her as well!

Also, there is almost NO information about the signs that you need to look for while feeding – hunger, being full, texture issues, etc. That connectedness is so key and there really is nothing about it in early feeding information. It’s more, when to start solids, what to start with, GO!

MadisonMom January 9, 2012 at 11:57 am

Thank you for the information! One source of frustration as we’ve been introducing solids to our 13-month-old son over the past few months is the fact that he will voraciously go at it when he’s presented with cereal, goldfish, shaved turkey, cheese, whatever – but he will push the food out after he chews. So it’s like he really wants to eat, but perhaps he has some sort of a tongue/swallowing issue that’s preventing him from actually swallowing the food? He does just great with purees; the problem is only with solids and foods with more texture. Did anyone else experience this with their little ones? Are there any resources you can point me to? Our pediatrician didn’t seem to be concerned about this at our son’s one-year check-up, but it concerns me nonetheless. Thank you.

Crystal January 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This is a great discussion. I think it’s important for parents to know that a baby can be fully breastfed for the first year. Delaying the start of solids until at least 6 months or longer helps the baby’s digestive system mature and decreases allergy problems.

I agree with you, that it’s important to know your child and follow their cues. I love food and want my children to learn to enjoy a variety of foods. We try hard not to make meal time a battle. Now that they are 7 and 4 years old, we encourage them to try a new or other food they dislike, but don’t force them to eat more than a couple of bites. I’ve heard that it can 14 or more tries for a new flavor or texture before it is familiar and enjoyable. That encourages me to keep trying new foods with my children even if they turn up their noses the first time. We also don’t make special foods for our children. If they don’t like what has been prepared, they can wait for the next meal.

Thanks again.

Elana January 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Maryann,

What a terrific post – thank you for this. On a similar theme, it’s important to remember that every baby is different, and what worked with an older sibling might not be the case for the younger one. With my daughter (she’s now 4), I fed her solids at 6 months (minus one week), primiarily my own purees. My son (nearly 8 months) started solids they day he turned 4 months and spits out my purees. Both kids are growing steadily and so far are terrific eaters. Bottom line: be tuned into your kids!

Thanks for a great post!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Thanks Goodfountain…some babies just don’t like puree. That’s good that you were able to hold back and follow his lead. We will discuss all the variations of babies in the book. I might want to use your story so will send you a separate email.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Thanks Anne and congrats on the pregnancy. We are going to have a whole chapter dedicated to the how of feeding babies and looking for signs of hunger/fullness and the importance of the feeding relationship. You are right that it is important to know how much to offer and then allow child to eat more or less. I address appropriate portions in my infant feeding guide http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/nutrition-for-children/infant-feeding-guide/ Thanks!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Madison — I would see your pediatrician and get a referal to a speech therapist or occupation therapist who specializes in feeding issues. By one year most children should be able to tolerate table foods and they will be able to tell you if there is a problem. Everything may be fine but the if there is an issue, the earlier you get help the better. Let me know if you need any help!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Elana — you are right on that every baby is unique. I tried ot wait as long as I could with my son but he was so very hungry (and worked to increase supply too). So after 5 months I gave him purees and he ate more than any baby I’d ever seen. My daughter on the other hand, too a while to warm up to food and we waited closer to 6 months. They are polar opposites but both healthy!

Sarah Arkison January 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Thanks a lot for this post and I just have to say that I love your blog!

I absolutely agree with Elana. Every child is different in how they eat/nurse and react to foods. My two could not be more different and I feel like they throw me a curve ball almost every day!

My first had a very low birth-weight (but was born full-term) and I had difficulties getting him to eat as he was so small. He took to solids at 6 months with no issues and ate every I made for him., in tiny quantities. I constantly obsessed over this caloric intake and did everything I could to maximize calories. Now he is almost 3 (and still small) and is going through a phase where he hesitates to try new foods and tells me all his previous favourites are “yucky.”

My 8 month old nursed well for the first month and then it all went down-hill. We made it to 4 months with nursing (after seeing a lactation consultant and our doctor on almost a weekly basis from birth – and constant tears) and put him on acid reflux meds and formula. After two months of this, he started solids and became a completely different little man. He is incredibly happy and loves to eat in huge quantities! We are allowing him to self-feed while still feeding him purees (now more chunky).I hope that he will be far more adventurous with food than his older brother but time will tell.

It’s never a dull moment with kids!

Ramona January 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

With my oldest daughter there was the first parent pressure to go ‘by the book’ and that she had already proven to have a temperamental belly. Breastfeeding with her was truly a labor of love with a love/hate relationship with the pacifier, introducing juices at 4 months on peds suggestion, rice cereal, pureed baby food, gradual increase to solids. My husband and I wanted to do it ‘right’ without realizing there was more than one right way to go about it.

I about choked myself when she took matters into her own hands and started fisting brisket into her mouth at 10 months, but that’s what showed me she was ready for more textures than what she had been fed.

That experience helped me relax with my second, whom we waited on introducing solids due to other health reasons, until she too took matters into her own hands around 8 months and started eating from my plate one night at dinner. She never did like traditional baby food and went straigth to slightly smooshed whatever was cooked food. Fortunately she was in a daycare that had a good kitchen and staff that had the sense to feed her and we realized that she had a good chewing action even though she didn’t have molars yet.

My girls are now 5 and 3 and even though we are beyond the ‘first’ introductions the ability to find balance can still be a challenge.

veronika January 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm

i really think everyone should wait until exactly 6 month or later. With our first we started a bit early as per our doc, with our second we started right at 6 month and i have to say my second was a lot more into it. Overall we have had a really awesome experience with solids. Both my boys eat great, eat a great variety of food. My toddler is pretty good with trying new things, and if he says he doesn’t like it we do not force him to eat but do try again in a week or two sometimes he remembers sometimes he doesn’t and ends up liking it. I also think there is so much stress nowdays with whats right, whats better, what they need, when, how much. articles everywhere, everyone is an expert. My approach to parenting is very simple, i do what feels right to us. its not necessarily right for everyone else, so i try not to get frazzled by the enormous amounts of iformation these days :)

Gina January 10, 2012 at 1:35 am

Looking back, I wish someone told me back then that rice cereal didn’t have to be their first food, and in fact, shouldn’t be. We did make our own baby food because there weren’t many organic options then so I feel good about that.

I also wish I knew how much is the right quantity. My son eats until we cut him off. Thankfully right now he’s a calorie-burning machine but I know that will end someday and fear that we’re not teaching him to listen to his body – as hard as I try. The kids loves food. And we’re fortunate that he enjoys healthy food. It kills me to tell him he can’t have more vegetables.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 10, 2012 at 7:51 am

Ramona — Thanks for the comment. I hope that Fearless Feeding will give parents all the knowledge they need to make the best decisions for their children. Our kids are about the same age and I agree that finding that balance can be hard but keeping meals enjoyable is key.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 10, 2012 at 7:53 am

Veronika — I totally agree that parents need to do what is right for them. What I do on this site is try to boild down the information (research etc.) in simple terms so parents can make an informed decision that is right for them.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 10, 2012 at 7:55 am

Gina — do you mind me asking why you have to cut off your son? Until my son was 18 months he ate a huge amount of food. We (well, mostly I) just kept feeding him until he he turned away or later said “all done.” Now that he is 2.5 his appetite has declined and while he can still put it away, he has at least one meal a day that he barely touches food.

Kelly January 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Maryann –

I’ve been a regular subscriber of your blog for quite a while now but have never commented.

Just wanted to throw something out there as you think about infant feeding. My daughter was born with a swallowing problem (that corrected completely by four months). Our doctors at Children’s Hospital Boston ordered us to give her thickened feeds because her throat could “grab” something thick while something thin would be aspirated into her lungs. So, she took rice cereal in formula from two weeks. (There is something else they use to thicken breast milk for kids with this issue but I wasn’t lactating despite pumping six times a day after her birth – probably due to stress).

I don’t get the impression she had trouble digesting it like more gas than other kids or more digestive problems. Just wanted to mention this since the 4 month vs 6 month debate always makes me laugh when friends mention it! :) So it’s “solids” at two weeks in our family :)

Kelly

Emma January 11, 2012 at 11:40 pm

With hindsight, the main problem I had with my son was that I worried too much about how much solid food he ate (even though until 9 months or so, breastmilk/formula should have been the bulk of his calories).
This resulted in me falling back to foods and textures (purees) that I knew he liked, instead of using that time (when quantity didn’t matter) to get him used to different tastes & textures.
I wish someone would have told me that those early days are all about exposure and experimentation, not quantity consumed. I focused so much on quantity because he wasn’t a good sleeper, and thought that it was because he was hungry.
Another problem I had was that he was a late teether… his first tooth came at 12 months; now at 28 months he finally has all baby teeth except his “2 year” molars (although 3 of his canines are still just tiny points). This meant he never learned to like chewy or crunchy foods (like meats or raw apple/carrots/etc), and now he’s a bit of a “lazy chewer” despite finally having the teeth to eat these type of foods.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 12, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thanks for sharing Kelly. Goes to show that you never know what will happen. Glad things are going well now!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Emma, I think this is really common and something we want to help parents manage when they start feeding. I think it comes down to having realistic expectations about how much babies should be eating along with the goal exposing them to a variety of foods. Thanks for sharing!

Melissa August 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

The link to your baby led weaning article doesn’t seem to be working. Do you have another source?

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