When my daughter, Elizabeth, was born, I was determined to succeed at breastfeeding. And it sure looked easy in all the baby books. The problem was, Elizabeth apparently hadn't read the books and refused to breastfeed the recommended ten minutes per side. I actually set a portable alarm clock and watched it nervously during feedings, and when she abandoned the second breast after only a few minutes -- or worse, fell asleep -- I became frantic.
Was my baby starving? Was I a bad mother? Instead of looking like that picture of perfect motherhood in my baby book, I spent most of our nursing sessions in tears. I was afraid to look like a failure, and thought that calls to my pediatrician should be reserved for major, life-threatening events, like broken limbs and the plague. Finally, I called the breastfeeding support group La Leche League, and they assured me that Elizabeth was normal -- some babies are just very efficient at nursing. In fact, her falling asleep after nursing was a sign she was full, not sick. At her two-week checkup, my pediatrician confirmed that she was gaining weight -- and told me that he was always available to answer questions.
Experts say my experiences -- and my distress -- are all too typical. Why are we so worried? For one thing, babies can't tell their parents why they're not eating. Wouldn't it be great if your child could say, "I'm not sick, Mommy. It's just that Daddy and the leaf blower are more interesting than my bottle." So, how can you avoid going crazy? Here, some guidelines about infant eating behavior -- and parental behavior -- specifically for her age group.
6 to 12 monthsThe AAP recommends starting solids between 4 and 6 months, but there is no magic date parents should mark on the calendar. Instead, they should take their cue from their infant. "We recommend starting solids when the baby has good head and trunk control," says Kathleen C. Reidy, R.D., director of nutrition sciences for the Gerber Products Company. What is most important to remember, according to Marianne Neifert, M.D., Babytalk contributing editor and author of Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding, is that breast milk or formula is still the major source of your baby's nutrition. Feeding during this stage is simply about introducing your child to a variety of new tastes and textures.
At first, your baby will eat only a few tablespoons at a sitting, but this amount will steadily increase over time. The AAP recommends that infants between 6 months and 1 year get 50 calories per pound per day including breast milk or formula. By the time your baby has his first birthday, he should be eating 4 to 8 tablespoons of vegetables and fruits, four servings of breads and cereals (a serving is a ¼ slice of bread or 2 tablespoons of rice, potatoes, or pasta), and 2 servings of meat or poultry (1 tablespoon each) daily. If he's weaned when he turns 1-year-old, he'll begin drinking 16 to 24 ounces of whole milk.
Don't worry if your baby doesn't complete a perfect food pyramid each day. Instead, look for signs that your child is healthy and thriving. "Kids should be happy, growing, and developing well," says Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, in Tucson. "When kids are not growing over a period of about 3 months or have signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, then I begin to ask questions."
Expect to see your child's growth slow down at around 9 months, when "catch-down growth" begins, Dr. Kessler adds. Starting as early as 6 months and lasting until 18 months, this period is when family heritage comes into play: Large babies of smaller parents, for example, will exhibit more dramatic catch-down patterns.
The exciting physical and mental developments that occur during this time may mean that your baby loses interest in food as she scrambles after the cat. "Food is competing with all the other fun things that a child is now capable of doing," Dr. Kessler explains. Provide healthful, kid-friendly food choices at regular mealtimes, and most children will take what they need over time.
So the bottom line is, if you are worried about your child's eating habits to the point where you are tearful, angry, frustrated, and at your wit's end -- you are perfectly normal. In fact, it's a sign of good parenting that you care so much about your child's nutrition. If the anxiety is getting to you, however, there's no need to sit alone and worry. Call your pediatrician. Don't let your appetite-anxiety deprive you of one of the great joys of parenthood -- sharing meals with your child. This may be hard to believe during the pea-flinging years, but dinner really can grow into a treasured time together.