I remember that first month of breastfeeding my first baby as being incredibly challenging both emotionally and physically. No-one had warned me about this. As much as prenatal classes are interesting, supportive and prepare you for birth, once the baby is born, there are no postnatal classes. You are very much left on your own learning curve.
Well not quite on your own. In the womb, your baby eats and sleeps without requiring your assistance. Once born it’s a completely different story. In your lap lies a tiny bundle of huge responsibility! You are required for growth and survival, but also for love and warmth. No wonder feeding can be emotionally challenging for many of us.
Despite breastfeeding guidelines in Australia recommending that children are exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age, the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey shows 96% of babies were initially breastfed, only 15.4% of babies were exclusively breastfed at 5 months.
“I absolutely hated breastfeeding one young mum told me recently. I know I was supposed to present this happy, successful breastfeeding mum to everyone, but I wasn’t any of that. I suffered a lot of criticism to top it all off, I stopped all social media, for a while, and I found a new MCHN*”.
Through breastfeeding or not, mothers enter a new world of conflicting and sometimes judgment ridden advice that is bound to last all of their “feeding” lives.
‘Have you introduced solids yet? Should you do it at 6 months or earlier? What about allergies? Is your child eating enough of? How is the growth going?’
The science of feeding a child does not start with science though, it starts with listening and trusting. Indeed mums can sense that children have the ability to self-regulate their food intake. Sometimes a baby may be ravenous, other times they seem uninterested. When meddling starts, confusion and anxiety may be triggered which always backfires.
“No matter what I do or try I can’t get him to have the amount I have been told to get into him. He refuses to take more. I am in desperate need of help.” cried the mum of a premature baby, who was smaller for his corrected age, yet, was growing consistently.
Judgment and pressures can be everywhere, not only in quantities eaten but also on the quality of the food offered.
‘You can’t give this to your baby. Just rule these foods out and your child will be healthy! You cannot have this in your kid’s lunch box!’
Science based advice from professionals often collides with internet belief-fuelled opinions. Mums amongst themselves can be really opinionated too.
So who should a mother trust and where can she find support to suit her personality when feeding challenges arise?
A mother needs non-judgmental advice from professionals who understand self-regulation and feeding dynamics to help her trough difficulties she may encounter with feeding. If not comfortable with some of the advice she is given a mum should have no qualms to seek another professional opinion.
When asking questions on social media she should always remember that only doctors can give medical advice. She should also be aware that avoiding foods from an entire or several food groups due to an internet recommendation, rather than a diagnosis can be detrimental to providing a variety of nutrients to their child.
A mums’ confidence that she is doing a great job should be reinforced as a result of having the right support. The opposite clearly being an indication that she is not getting the support she needs.
The road to feeding a child is long and sometimes challenging, but keep in mind that it is not just about nutrition and quantity but also about trust, appetite, and connection. This should reward you with a child who is happy to come to the dinner table and enjoys sharing a meal with the family for years to come.
MCHN: Maternal Child Health Nurse.
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