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Photo: Nylan Tyrrell by Sterlin Swan
Mother’s situation: Living on thin air
My daughter is 18 months, and though she’ll eat fruit and a few other foods, frequently a couple of days go by when she has eaten hardly any solid food. I am comfortable with her continued breastfeeding, and though she is petite, she is growing and energetic and our doctor says she’s healthy. Her sister is also petite but she ate a variety of solids at this age. I have trusted her up until now to know her own needs; however, I am hearing so many comments about her size it is beginning to undermine my confidence. What can I do to help her learn to enjoy eating more foods?
I can relate to your frustration and concern! I suggest leaving a snack tray within reach during playtime. Make sure to offer whole foods in a variety of textures, tastes and shapes, and try to avoid empty calories and “filler foods” like chips. Offer food frequently but try not to show that you’re worried. Trust that she’ll eat when she’s hungry. Make mealtimes special and fun. Sit around the table as a family or even outside on a picnic blanket to let her see you eating and enjoying different foods. Good luck and don’t stress!
Kylin Brown, Indianapolis, IN, USA
I recommend reading My Child Won’t Eat by Spanish pediatrician Dr Carlos Gonzalez. He believes in giving children healthy options and then leaving them to it because coercion or punishments for not eating are counterproductive. He encourages parents to examine things from their child’s point of view. Have you ever been fed? Ask someone to feed you! It’s actually really stressful to have someone forcing food upon you. How would you like it if you were never allowed to control your own portion size and made to eat things you didn’t like?
It is very easy to overestimate how much a child needs to eat and a breastfed child is still receiving a substantial amount of her nutrition healthily from your milk for the first couple of years. Trust her to eat when she is hungry. It is normal to be hungrier on some days than others, too. Nowadays obesity is a real health problem and many people eat far too much. Being petite is not a problem if your daughter is energetic and healthy.
Bergit Schmidt, Berlin, Germany
My son is the same way, so instead of trying to force him to eat three big meals a day, I keep snacks on hand. You can add all kinds of ingredients to smoothies without children even noticing, such as spinach for nutrition. Try adding protein powder to pancakes.
Sadie Flores, Eugene OR, USA
You’re not alone! My now three-year-old didn’t ingest anything other than my milk, yogurt, and banana until she was 18 months old. I’d offer three meals a day and she would just play with the food. Most of it wouldn’t get near her mouth. I always offered unlimited breast milk and she seemed to be happier sitting at mealtimes if I had breastfed her first. Then, from 18 months onward, she started eating more. She now eats and enjoys a wide range of foods. Playing with food is an important part of the weaning process—exploring before attempting to eat it.
It’s hard not to let comments from other people knock your confidence. I went through phases of worry and doubt about baby-led weaning. When I look back now, I realize worrying didn’t help or make any difference! My daughter did things at her own pace—gradually—which is what was right for her. Every child is different. I know it’s more easily said than done, but try not to worry and when people’s comments throw you, try to focus on following your child’s lead rather than being forceful or getting into battles.
Carry on as you are and keep it sociable. I found eating with my daughter and her eating with her friends encouraged her to eat more, and a wider variety of foods. Friends learn from each other.
Charlotte Stapleford, Northampton, UK
Everyone goes through hungry days and not so hungry days. My husband was still doing that when I first met him as an adult! It sounds like you are doing fine and that your doctor is happy, so I wouldn’t worry about it for now.
My son didn’t get going with solids until around 15 months. He only ate fruit for a long time. Eventually he accepted potatoes, eggs, and other simple foods. He was about two-and-a-half before he would go near grains, and at three started to enjoy nuts. Now he is four and he’ll eat absolutely anything.
Your daughter might find it fun to experiment with different sorts of fruit, if fruit is what she likes, and there are so many varieties to try. I used to put cut-up little bits of different things in an ice-cube tray.
Sophie Bennett, Northampton, UK
It can be really worrying but don’t let people’s comments undermine your confidence. That happens all too often on our parenting journey. Trust your instincts. Babies eat when they need to. She’ll be getting lots of calories and nutrients from your milk. Food is experimental to start with. Children often just feel it, throw it, roll it, squash it. Keep giving her finger foods to play with as this at least encourages familiarity.
Anna Sellers, Northampton, UK
Letting your child lead the way promotes independence and will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. Don’t make mealtimes into an emotional issue. Just because she refuses a particular food today doesn’t mean she’ll refuse it forever. Just leave it for now and try it another day. To determine whether your daughter is eating a balanced diet look at what she consumes over a whole week rather than on a single day. There are some wonderful recipes worth a try in the latest book from LLLI Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family.
Jane Barlow, Auckland, New Zealand
Mother’s new situation: Nursing in public
I’m expecting my second baby in a few months and really want to breastfeed this time around. One of the reasons I was reluctant to persevere last time was my fear of breastfeeding in front of other people. None of the mothers in my close family—my mom, sisters, aunts or cousins—have breastfed their babies and I have heard some of them say negative things about nursing mothers we have encountered when we have been out and about together. How have other moms found the confidence to breastfeed when members of their family are unsupportive? And how often do moms meet with negative responses from the general public when they are breastfeeding in public spaces?