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.
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.