Getting Your Child To Eat Fruits And Veggies

Direct from the Parent Coaching files, an issue that plagues many of us: The Preschooler Who Won't Eat Healthy Foods. Common variants of this plague include The Preschooler Who Only Eats White Foods, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Starches, The Preschooler Who Only Eats Chicken Nuggets, and my niece's current version: The Preschooler Who Only Eats Raisin Toast. (What can I say? Our family always has to be a little different.)

Seeing as though we can't force our children to Eat, Sleep, or Poop, we must BACK OFF. Yet, how to encourage healthy eating habits? And how to cope with the obvious complications of No Healthy Food -- constipation, and it's negative impact on potty training?

I wish it was as simple as many of our pediatricians say: "Encourage fruits, vegetables, and whole fibers. Have them drink a lot of water." OK -- but HOW?! Most preschoolers will turn up their cute little noses at a plate of healthy food -- or even something that looks just a little DIFFERENT than what they're used to eating.

My take on it: This is an opportunity to walk the precariously thin line between ENCOURAGEMENT and PRESSURE. Do we give up trying? No. Do we get frustrated and beg, plead, cajole, or bribe them? Nope. But we DO encourage -- with a parenting trick up our sleeves.

So, try this, a daily tactic in our house: It's the One Molecule Rule. We serve meals in courses: Healthy foods first. Each kid gets a serving of either a fruit or vegetable -- kid-friendly -- think carrot strips and ranch dressing, banana "coins", or apples with peanut butter. Each kid's serving must be finished before the rest of the meal becomes available to them. And by "serving size", we start with One Molecule of something different. The other day, we tried pomegranates. One kid LOVES them, but one kid freaked out when he saw them. For him, the rule was One Seed. He had to eat ONE pomegranate seed before "unlocking" his turkey sandwich. And next time, his serving might be TWO seeds. Whatever it is, be reasonably sure that it's a serving size he can handle -- and maybe even feel proud of finishing. SMALLER IS BETTER, until they graduate up to the next level. Praise and reinforce even the most incremental progress. And of course -- model the behavior you want them to emulate. OOH and AAH over your artichokes, brussels sprouts, and avocados. But let them go when they've had their molecule.

Because:  Little kids are biologically programmed to avoid weird, unusual foods. It's a survival thing from back in the day when weird foods could (and often did) kill them. So don't blame your kids, work with them.

And the good news is this: With lots of encouragement over time, this too shall improve. To wit: My 9-year-old daughter, previously a card-carrying member of the "I Only Drink Juice And Eat Goldfish Crackers" club, asked for a CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD last night. And she LOVED it.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: Reasons Your Toddler Doesn't Eat Much

I've just had a rare parenting experience; making a meal that my toddler ate -- and enjoyed.

Pediatricians tell us that toddlers need fewer calories, so not to worry. But there's another more developmental reason that toddlers often don't eat. The "simple" cycle of HUNGER -----> EATING -----> FEELING BETTER isn't really so simple for your toddler. It involves conscious awareness of a physical cue (hunger), understanding that FOOD is the solution to HUNGER, and then expressing that need to us. Not only do toddlers have better things to do than to sit and be restrained in a highchair (things like walking, running, climbing and screaming about bathtime), but they have a hard time "tuning in" to that feeling of hunger to begin with. We can all relate to that, right? Getting so consumed in an absorbing activity that we forget to eat. That's the daily experience of your toddler.

Understanding this dynamic makes it easier to handle. Try this:

Think ahead about when your toddler's likely to get hungry, and offer something she usually likes to entice her to the highchair. (Thin, crunchy breadsticks are the snack of choice at our house these days.) Then offer her a prepared meal -- don't expect her to sit and wait while you make it. If she resists, that's OK. Take her down and send her on her way. Try again at the next regular snack or mealtime.

Drinking milk is your toddler's default -- it's a lot easier to drink milk (think how easy a nice milkshake goes down), and it's reminiscent of the good ol' baby days, when parents took care of everything. In other words, it's regressive -- and comforting. And sometimes, toddlers get so crazy-hungry that they're beyond food -- it just doesn't satisfy the way milk would. As long as your toddler's experimenting with food and getting a little variety during the course of the week, regressing to milk in the service of preventing a hunger meltdown sometimes is OK. (But check out her menu with her pediatrician if you're unsure.)

Don't panic about rejected food. You can't force a toddler eat, poop, or sleep. Putting extra pressure on the situation only makes it worse. Take a deep breath and be glad you're not contributing to a future food neurosis.

Rest assured that as your toddler gets a bit older, this dynamic will naturally improve -- young toddlers have more trouble with food than older, "more experienced" toddlers do. And as she gets to preschool age (3 or so), she'll be more interested in playing social games involving food (think "Tea Party"), AND she'll have a lot more experience with food under her belt. Once again, the miracle of development will help us get through this maddening stage.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: How To Handle A "Nursing Strike" By Your Baby

The flip side of the baby on a "Bottle Strike" is the very common "Nursing Strike". Baby NOT nursing

Babies can switch from one distressing habit to the other, often without warning, leaving sitters and parents in a bind. Moms worry -- Will the baby finally nurse today? Will I lose my milk? Will I be stuck to this breast pump forever? Here are some tips, which are similar to those you can use when Baby is on a "Bottle Strike":

Consider Age -- At certain ages -- 5 months and 9 months are common -- your baby is way more interested in the world than in burrowing in for a cozy nursing session. The draw of the outside world becomes too tempting, making bottle feeding a lot more interesting and fun. Try nursing in a quiet, darkened place. Other babies will simply refuse to nurse unless they're exhausted or sleeping, as they're more interested in playing than nursing. Use a bottle (and nurse at night, when babies are more likely to go for it) until this phase passes.

Consider Temperament -- A baby who is easily overstimulated by being held might feel more comfortable begin fed while turned outward, which is impossible with nursing. Other babies are highly visual and love to look at everything, which is limited when nursing. For these babies you might consider only nursing when baby is tired or at night, using the pump and/or formula for bottle feeding other times.

Practice and Prevention: It's fine to expect your baby to alternate between the breast and bottle -- you've just got to keep him in practice, even if you don't need him to alternate all the time. This means he should be given BOTH the breast and the bottle at least every 1-2 days. This is the most important piece of advice I can give for preventing nursing AND bottle strikes.

Don't Panic: I know you want to nurse your baby, he's refusing to do it, and everyone recommends it, blah blah. Just don't freak out -- your baby has preferences and opinions, and this is only the first of many he'll express over the years -- breastfeeding propaganda be damned. Most babies can be coaxed back into nursing after exploring the fun and easy option of bottle feeding. Taking it in stride will help everyone come to a good compromise. Pump as much as is reasonable to keep your milk coming in the meantime -- but don't make yourself nuts about it. Your baby will be a lot less likely to nurse if you're stressed out and upset.

Offer the breast when he's asleep -- just as with Bottle Strikes, your baby is more likely to accept what you offer when he's drowsy or asleep.

Check with the pediatrician -- thrush, tummy upsets, teething, ear infections and other illness can make nursing more difficult. Remedy any medical problems first.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: Dealing With A "Bottle Strike" By Your Baby

A common parenting problem: The Baby Refuses a Bottle -- And Mom Works (or otherwise can't always be with the baby). Here are some tips: Prevention and Practice. If you expect her to take a bottle intermittently, you've got to keep up the practice. Have her take a bottle at least every 1-2 days -- even if Mom will be with her -- to keep up her familiarity with it (and prevent problems when you DO need to leave her). I can't emphasize this enough. DON'T PANIC. I know Baby is hungry and fussy, but this too shall pass. The more stressed out you are about it, the more the problem will be reinforced. Stay calm, keep trying, and Baby will eventually accept the bottle again. In the meantime, arrange your schedule so you can nurse, but keep trying with the bottle. Often, Dads, sitters and grandmas have better luck with the bottle than Mom will. We Moms often have trouble trusting that anyone might possibly substitute for us, but this is a sure sign it's time to let go. Offer a bottle to Baby when she's asleep. She's more likely to accept the bottle when drowsy or sleeping. Experiment with different bottles and nipples, but don't blow Baby's college savings on this technique. It often doesn't work -- but worth a try. Babies who refuse one nipple will often accept the same one just a few hours or days later. Don't try to "force feed" in any way. This will start a struggle that you can't win. Offer -- repeatedly -- over different times of the day, different temperatures, and by different people. If she refuses -- immediately take it away for at least a couple of hours -- and don't get aggravated. She'll pick up on your frustration, and a negative cycle will begin. Have Dad, Grandma, Sitter, or Sibling offer the bottle when Mom is COMPLETELY OUT OF THE HOUSE. Babies smell Mom, and will wait her out if they sense she's nearby! And of course, make sure there's no thrush, teething pain, tummy trouble, allergies, or other medical problem interfering. "Bottle Strikes" (or their cousin, the "Nursing Strike") are very common. Just when you're sure Baby will never take the bottle again (or nurse again), you're likely to be surprised. Hang in there!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: What To Do When Your Baby Bites You

Our 10-month-old is teething. ON ME. She wants to gnaw, chomp, and tear at my skin -- my arm, neck, or of course the worst target, MY NIPPLE. And man, it hurts! These aren't little love nibbles. These are deep, powerful bites that leave marks. Sound familiar? Today, I'll give you some quick info on babies who bite, and by "babies" I mean up to the age of 12-15 months. Those little chompers hurt!

Here are some quick tips:

Ignore and Distract. I know it hurts like hell, but any sort of reaction makes a repeat bite more likely. Your baby loves to learn new ways to impact his world, and Making Mom Shout And Yelp sure ranks high up there in "impacting his world". Detach him, take a deep breath, and move on.

Offer Teething Relief. Frozen wet, clean washcloths, teething rings or whatever your pediatrician recommends for pain relief should be your first consideration. Biting is often due to his erupting teeth bugging him. Biting feels good -- that's why he does it. At this age, he can't help himself.

Offer food or milk -- or don't. Sometimes biting occurs because your baby is hungry. Other times, it's because he's done with eating (or nursing) and getting bored. If the biting keeps up, change tactics to one of the others listed here.

DON'T lecture, pretend that you're hurt, or punish (all tactics found on other online parenting sites). Those tactics cannot work with a baby of this age, given his stage of cognitive development. You'll only end up confusing and upsetting him -- or reinforcing the problem!

I've written about aggression in young children, and if you're interested (or just plain sore from those sharp little teeth digging into your skin), go ahead and check out this post after you read this one for some more insight into the problem.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Why Does My Baby Behave Better With The Babysitter Than With The Parents?

It's always a shock -- finding out your oppositional little tyke is a perfect darling for the sitter (or grandma). When I found out my usually picky eater ate like a champ at a neighbor's house, I felt embarrassed that I had been complaining about it. It must be me, after all! I worried. Then I realized that our kids have special plans for us -- plans to humiliate, embarrass, and otherwise show us for the idiots we fear we are. And these plans don't stop at toddlerhood, they only get more complex as they get older and wiser. Parents are morons, right? I guess I remember feeling that way about my own parents (sorry, Mom and Dad!)

It helps (a little bit) to know that toddlers act better for others because they love us so much. When they're with the sitter, they "hold it together", waiting for the moment when we return. They put on brave little faces and their best behavior for those temporarily in charge. And then when we return -- look out! All of that stored up stress and worry and upset about our leaving is dumped at the feet of those who caused it. Here's a reader question about the issue from the comments section, posted here in case you missed it:

Hi Dr. Heather,

But he never uses a sippy cup at home!

I could use some advice on getting my baby to drink cow’s milk. He just turned one last week, so I started mixing breastmilk with cow’s milk in equal parts. Our sitter says he drinks it with no problems from a sippy cup, but with us, he doesn’t seem interested in it with either a sippy cup OR bottle. He drinks water from the sippy cup, so I know that he is capable of using it. Same thing with naps…no problem at the sitter, but with us, he puts up a fight. Is it common for babies to behave differently with the sitter vs the parents? Do we just wait him out with the milk until he’s so thirsty that he’ll drink anything? Should I be concerned that he still drinks from a bottle? I’m clueless!

JD

Dear JD,

YES, it’s extremely common -- predictable even -- that your baby will “perform” better for a sitter. The babies save their best — and their worst — for us. They seem to “hold it together” while missing us at the sitter, and then sort of fall apart for us. Refusing things like milk or cups falls into the same category.

But what to do about the milk dilemma? Milk in particular is reminiscent of the early, close bond with mom, and so there is often a special struggle around it. Try VERY SLOWLY introducing the cow’s milk — say one tenth at a time, and wait until you’re SURE he’s used to it, then another tenth. DON’T MAKE AN ISSUE OF IT — don’t mention it, (and try not to show him both milk containers in the kitchen, maybe prepare them in advance) and just try to be matter-of-fact. Slow, steady, but no pressure.

For the cup thing, offer him a sippy of perhaps watered down juice — just a small amount, ALONG WITH whatever he’s used to, at his highchair. It’s a drag to offer both I know, but he’ll start out “playing” with the sippy and eventually get used to actually drinking out of it. And he won’t fear that you’re trying to take away his usual. You can also make a game of it by giving him juice to drink in the tub, or even in the stroller, car etc. Eventually offer the cup more and the bottle less, and offer a lot of praise when he really starts to get the hang of the cup. Also, point out kids he likes when they're using their cups. "Look at Max and his cool Spider Man sippy cup. Max sure looks thirsty!"

Aloha!

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Baby Behavior Problems: Tips For Helping Your Baby Eat Baby Food

Dear Dr. Heather, My baby won't eat his baby food. His doctor says he's ready, but he's just not interested.

He takes a couple of bites here and there, but would really rather drink his milk. I'm starting to panic since the other babies in his playgroup are trying all sorts of baby food and really progressing. Not my guy. The doctor says he's healthy so I try not to worry, but do you have any suggestions?

Thanks, Carla

I'm going through the same thing that reader Carla asks about: A baby who is lukewarm, at best, about eating baby food. Carla's son is 7 months old, and mine is 6 months. As parents, we're genetically wired to FEED OUR CHILDREN.

Some babies just don't like baby food

They must eat to grow, right? So, what if they won't eat? Here are some tips for parents like me whose babies would rather play than eat:

Babies Vary Widely and Can Still Be Normal

We're used to our babies marching along in lock-step with their baby peers on the magic developmental continuum. But this is where babies start to diverge. Some are huge eaters from the get-go (I had two of those), and some eat like little birdies (got two of those too). Think of adults (or even big kids): Some pack it away, others seem to subsist on air. When our first baby (a non-eater) dropped on her weight curve late in her first year, I started panicking. But her pediatrician pointed out that "some kids are slender. Be happy, she's healthy." He also pointed out that she still had enough cute baby chub to make baby dimples on her knees, despite her skinniness. She's now a skinny (and healthy) 9-year-old who still barely eats, some days. But our second kid ate so much that first year that my life seemed to revolve around procuring, preparing, and providing food to him. As a 10-month-old, one of his meals (of which there were FIVE per day) consisted of: half a block (and I mean half of the whole pack) of tofu, half an avocado, one cup of cheerios, and 6 ounces of milk. Of course, as always, check your baby's weight and eating habits out with your pediatrician.

It's a Learning Curve (for Some)

For some (like my second), eating is EASY. They know what to do immediately and do it with vigor. For others, it's a slow process that takes weeks (or months) of introductions, playing, experimentation, smearing, blowing raspberries (wonderful, trying to scrape solidified baby oatmeal off your jeans!) and basically NOT eating, before any food is consumed. Our first had this weird habit of sucking the "juice" out of any food, then spitting out the rest. This went on for months. She also really just preferred her milk. So although it's tiring to prepare yet another meal that you suspect won't be eaten, keep soldiering on, and don't let it get to you. This is a learning process that will set the tone for other parenting issues later on. Just breathe deeply and try not to worry about it as you dump yet another uneaten meal down the drain!

When to Ask for Help

Luckily, well-baby checkups are frequent during the first year of life, so you'll have ample opportunity to discuss any concerns with your pediatrician. If there's a concern, you can be referred to your local "Feeding Team", a group of clinicians who work with babies and these challenges at many children's hospitals. They are awesome specialists who can help. Barring any medical concern, you can feel comfortable that a slow, steady, and patient approach will win the day. Remember: You can't force your baby to eat, sleep, or poop. It's a process of learning and support that helps guide their development -- but a process that ultimately has to be driven by BABY, not eager parents like us.

Good luck, and happy eating (eventually).

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Food Allergies, Your Child's Behavior, and YOUR Guilt

I've been away on vacation for a bit, and we were able to visit lots of family and friends. I was struck by how many have kids with food allergies and sensitivities -- more and more of us are discovering what a difference our food choices have on how we, and our kids, feel and behave. But it ain't easy, managing special diets. The pressure to "join in" and have "just one cookie" is quite difficult. The pressure even comes from within the family, often in the form of well-meaning relatives who want our kids to "not be different" and "just have fun". Many parents feel guilty that they can't give their child what the other kids can have. But guess what? Parenting is at least as often about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes", and having limits and structure in life is good for our kids' ultimate development. On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme and be rigid when there's no need. So it's a balance between being realistic about food choices, firm in your decisions, and flexible when you CAN be. I appreciate the comments left by Hot Wife, KiwiLog and Margaret after my last post, and I urge you to review them, and their resources, if you're interested. Here are some of my additional thoughts and recommendations as well:

For parents of kids with food sensitivities:

Make a big deal out of exploring new, safe food options. Have fun in the kitchen and enlist your child's natural desire to learn the "rules".

Kids with sensitivities (as opposed to true food allergies) can often have a certain amount of the "offending" food. Determine, with her doctor and/or nutritionist, how often your child can have foods that trigger her sensitivities. Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Then give her the freedom to pick and choose those foods within her allowed time-frame.

Be flexible in allowing "treats" that fit in with her diet -- don't make yourself crazy trying to follow every single rule about healthy foods. The more unnecessarily rigid you are, the more you risk a backlash against your rules in adolescence.

Stay closely in touch with online or in-person support groups, as information about food sensitivities and allergies changes rapidly, and your doctor may not have the resources to keep you abreast of all the developments, new foods available, etc.

For parents of kids with life-threatening allergies, I also suggest the following:

TALK to your child, even if she's very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can't have what she wants; you understand that it's hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying "no" to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it's hard for ALL kids to say "no" to themselves, and you'll help her to do that until she's able to do it for herself.

Try not to feel guilty about "depriving" your kids of the junk they can't have. All parents have challenges with their kids, and this is yours. It's your job to keep her safe. She'll understand your reasons as she gets older.

Don't hesitate to tell everyone at your child's school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Don't worry about "rocking the boat". Use your child's pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn't take your child's safety seriously.

Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life's challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Does Your Child Have Food Allergies?

Having a child with food allergies is tough -- first, there are the obvious safety issues involved. You don't want your child to accidentally -- or intentionally -- eat something that may make him sick, or even kill him. Then there are the practical challenges; finding acceptable, palatable food substitutes for the things he can't eat. I know many families who have to spend tons of time (and money) planning and making separate meals for their allergic kids, and strategizing about "dangerous" situations like birthday parties and school lunch rooms. But it doesn't stop there. The doctors and nutritionists who diagnose the allergies, and prescribe the necessary diets, unfortunately don't often have the time to get into the psychological aspects of food allergies -- and leave the parents wondering how to handle this very tricky aspect of the allergy.

The behavioral and emotional effects of the allergy and related diets include the resentment caused in the child by not being able to eat foods his friends CAN eat. The feelings of deprivation and being "different". The parents' worry that these food issues will lead to eating disorders in adolescence. All of these problems are very real challenges of raising a child with a food allergy.

I recently got a phone call from a friend who's daughter has multiple food allergies -- gluten, casein (dairy protein), tree nuts -- the works. They've been able to reasonably control her food intake up until recently; she's now an active, busy second-grader who is starting to get resentful that the other kids can get all kinds of foods that are forbidden to her. My friend was mortified to tell me that they discovered a stack of 30 or more string-cheese wrappers stuffed under the couch recently. And a rash that preceded the cheese-eating was diagnosed by the doctor as "psychological". Poor little thing is itching herself raw, and hoarding and "sneaking" disallowed foods.

I've got some ideas about how to handle these issues, and I've had to do the gluten and casein-free diet in our home for awhile when we were ruling out food allergies with our daughter. But I know there are a LOT of you out there struggling directly with these challenges in your home. I'm hoping some of you will post your comments to my friend here, giving us some tips for what works -- and what doesn't -- in your home. I'll collect your responses and include them with some of my own in my next post.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Dealing With Toddlers and Picky Eating Habits

Hi Dr. Heather: I eat a variety of healthy foods, heavy on the veggies, with a variety of ethnic cuisines, most of which I cook myself. On the other hand, my daughter more or less eats the same things every day.

It's called experimentation, Mom!

Every resource says the same thing: keep offering it to your child. My question is: how do I do that without wasting large amounts of food? Also, how do I offer it to her at all, when she will eat the foods she likes and leave the foods she doesn't?

Please tell me my kid will grow out of this! I feel stumped when other moms chime in with something encouraging like, "Broccoli is my kid's favorite!" or "I can't pry the sushi from her hands!" I should note that 1) she ate it all just fine when we were in the baby food stage, and right at about 13-14 months she started refusing vegetables, and 2) she doesn't seem like a "picky" kid to me- she eats a wide variety of foods, pretty much anything except vegetables.

I'm sure I'm putting too much pressure on myself with this, but my husband is obese and struggling to lose weight, and I so want to avoid the same fate for her!

Patricia in Atlanta

Dear Patricia,

I know they tell us to keep offering a wide variety of foods to our toddlers and young kids. And we start to feel there’s something WRONG if they don’t eat a nicely rounded diet all the time. It’s another source of pressure and guilt for us, as parents. It had better be healthy! Organic! Wholesome! Etc, etc, etc.

But what they DON’T tell us is that our kids are BORN with very strong tendencies, in terms of eating preferences. I have one kid who’ll eat just about anything, and always has. I have another who is extremely choosy, and yet another who is somewhere in the middle.

You can’t make a kid eat something they don’t want to eat. And if you TRY, you risk setting up a power struggle that YOU CAN’T WIN. It’s normal for young babies (6 to 12 months or so) to happily eat whatever we put in front of them. After one year of age, however, their caloric needs DECREASE, and their desire to be independent INCREASES, as does their desire to get moving! Crawling, walking, running, talking; it all holds much more interest than sitting and eating vegetables. So it’s fairly common to see what you describe; a baby who eats everything, who turns into a toddler who is choosy, or who has inconsistent food preferences. (They often can get into “food fads”, too, where they demand certain things all the time.)

All you can do is go with the flow. Yes, offer her healthy options. Don’t push or insist that she eats her “healthy” food. Set it all out in front of her and then GET OUT OF THE WAY. She needs to make her own food selections, within the range of a variety of foods you set out for her. Your toddler needs to resist and be oppositional, as she works on establishing her independence. Don't let her struggle with you over food. Pick your battles; this one, you won't win. Over time, your daughter will learn to love a wide variety of foods. (But she might not show it until she leaves for college!)

Now, does that mean you give in and offer a Happy Meal morning, noon and night? No. Just try to add something healthy to her plate, and leave it alone.

Let her see you enjoying your healthy, interesting variety of foods. And don’t let her associate pressure or stress with that image.

In our house, our 2-year-old is attempting a coup to establish him as Food Dictator. It's a struggle on a daily basis. His preferences change daily, too. Here's what we do: Put the healthy stuff in front of him while we prepare the rest of the meal. That way, while he's really hungry, he's more likely to try the good stuff. Then we offer him a choice or two, and that’s that. I do try to include something I know he’ll eat, whether it’s pasta, or PB and J, or some cheese. He also does like fruit, so I offer lots of that. If he doesn’t want the options, he can eat at he next mealtime. He whines and complains, but I only have the energy to do a certain amount! What’s interesting is that he often craves the food on OTHER PEOPLE’S PLATES; especially Daddy’s, right now. And he will tackle veggies and other things he flatly refuses when put on HIS plate. So we engage in a little trick-the-baby-psychology, and allow him to eat off his Daddy’s plate, after he’s done with his own. We get a little extra nutrition into him that way. We’ll set firmer limits with him on that as he gets closer to 3, because by then we'll want him to see that he's got to stick to HIS plate. But for now, it’s not so bad for Daddy to share some of his dinner with our cute little guy.

Now, I’m not a physician or a nutritionist, so you’d better check with your pediatrician just to make sure things are OK with your daughter's nutrition. You can also read more about the issue in Dr. Brazelton’s books; I love how he deals with the issue.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

PS Want to read more about annoying toddler tendencies? Check out my Toddler Page for more.

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: The “Good-Enough Mother”: Are Breasts Required?

Dear BabyShrink,

I fully intended on breastfeeding my first baby. But after trying hard for six weeks, we had to give up. We had 3 lactation specialists, moms, friends, and my doctor helping. But my baby was not gaining weight and crying all the time. I just never made more than a half-ounce of milk at a time, despite pumping and nursing all day (and night). But the specialists all told me to keep trying. That eventually, I would make more milk. I never did, and I could not stand to know that she was hungry. I had to feed her!

Feeding my baby formula felt like a failure as a mom. But she is developing into a wonderful and healthy little girl. Now that I am expecting my second baby, I still think back to that time and I worry about it. It makes me so depressed that I still get teary-eyed every time I think of trying to nurse again. All my friends and my sister were able to nurse. Why not me? People are urging me to try it, but I just can’t go through that again. I was so stressed out at a time I wanted to be enjoying my new baby. Now I will have a toddler to care for as well.

How do I handle this? Any thoughts are appreciated.

Sign me,

Anonymous in Atlanta

Dear, Dear Anonymous Mom,

I asked you if I could post this letter because so many moms out there are experiencing this same thing right now. Terrible guilt and angst because of being unable (or unwilling, for what can be excellent reasons) to breastfeed their babies. Let me say this immediately: as a psychologist, I want you to be as happy and stress-free as possible during the early months with your baby. Your baby’s development and happiness depends very much on YOUR emotional state at that crucial time. If breastfeeding is causing you too much strain and guilt…it’s just not worth it.

OK, I said it! Let the breastfeeding police come and take me away. But it has to be said.

Some of you are about to get angry at me. So before that happens, let me state a few things as fact:

Breastmilk has absolute advantages, nutritionally, over formula

Nursing has been shown to be beneficial in many ways, to both mother and baby

I support the ability of Moms to nurse their kids anywhere at any time

I nursed our four kids

But the pressure to breastfeed can be harmful to many Moms. It’s hurting some of you (and by extension, your babies). While I accept the fact that some Moms simply may not understand the benefits and simplicity of breastfeeding, and I do wish more Moms would at least try it out, I don’t accept the patronizing (matronizing?) attitude that often goes along with judging Moms for their choice not to nurse…or their physical inability to do so.

As a licensed psychologist, I also see many Moms who feel inadequate, uncertain, and self-critical because of society’s pressure to breastfeed. They in turn transmit those feelings to their babies.

Although we are told that virtually all mothers can (and should) nurse their babies, consider the following real-life examples of Moms who simply can’t breastfeed: The Moms who, like Anonymous above, went through several lactation specialists, medications, and weeks of stress, only to find her breasts simply won’t produce milk (and her baby wasn’t gaining weight)

The Moms who need to take medicine for postpartum depression (or other life-threatening illness) and want to protect their babies from the medication

The Moms who have no breasts, or inadequate breast tissue, either because of an accident, illness, surgery or congenital condition

These are cases where Moms CANNOT breastfeed. Yet in each case, these Moms are criticized and judged by others who have the nerve to ask them, “Why aren’t you breastfeeding?”

But I must maintain that there are also situations where Moms CHOOSE NOT to breastfeed, and that choice must be respected. Who are we to judge the choices other parents make about feeding their babies? Who are we to impose our decisions on them?

I would rather see a happy mom and baby with a bottle of formula than a stressed out mom (and baby) struggling through nursing. To me, the most important thing is that Mom feels comfortable in her decisions as a parent. If Mom is happy, everyone’s happy. I actually stole the term "Good Enough Mother" from one of my shrink heroes, Dr. Donald Winnicott. He was the first to say, "back in the day", that you should not strive to be a perfect parent....just a good enough parent. If you want to get the scoop on him, read more here. (It's a little technical, but if you're into psychology, Winnicott is a classic.)

And it extends to the “I’m a better parent than you” kind of competitiveness that continues beyond the baby stage. Who’s toddler is smarter/cuter/faster/going to the “better” preschool? Who is watching the least TV? Who has the better diet?

Our expectations of being “Good Enough” mothers have gotten completely out of whack. And the very strong pressure to breastfeed our babies does not help.

Again, this is all about expectations. It’s important for parents to have realistic expectations of their parenting. Parenting decisions have to be made with the best interests of both parent and child in mind. Breast or bottle? Your choice is best.

If you're struggling with this issue and want to talk personally with me about it, I'd love to help you. Hit the "Parent Coaching" button, or email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com to arrange a Skype, phone, or in-person appointment.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert