A group of fellow mums were chatting next to me at work when the topic came to our kid's dabbas - specifically the humongous variety in Neil's dabba. I was within earshot and one of the mums said, "Huh! She should give him some junk food and lesser variety. Only then he will start eating better!". I did not say anything as I was used to this. My comeback would have not been short, and I believe that there are many mums like me and her in this world that need to know the following. So, here goes...
My little boy has always been underweight - right since his first month. His weight gain was never drastic. ALL the paeds would look at his growth curve and the so-called WHO charts and express utter shock and dismay. "Why is your baby not following, this growth curve??," they would ask me.
I'd be chided for not eating well while nursing, and when he started eating solids, I would be blamed for not giving him the right food. I still remember 10 days before I joined work, one of the paeds we met scared the hell out of us w.r.t. his weight-gain and the food we were giving him. She actually started checking him for signs of timely development to verify if his brain development was on track!
All the while, we knew at the back of our minds that he is the way he is because of nothing - but genes. If both his parents were tiny and extremely thin all their childhood, why would he be any different? Would his genes follow the stupid WHO charts that were made with a small sample-set of babies that belonged to ethnicities all over the world?
People who would come to visit us would pick him up and say, "Oh, no weight gain huh. He's still very light-weight". It was so irritating. In the meantime, our little boy started flashing us a beautiful smile, spoke to us through his bright, shiny eyes, had rapidly growing long nails and shiny mop of thick fast-growing hair. These were enough to tell us that he is fine.
I was always told by many people that you need to run behind your boy to feed him. "That is how it is done". I complied. Mealtimes would be hell - for us both. One day, I took out the spoon to feed him his dinner. He saw the spoon and started crying very loudly. That was a wake-up call for me. Nutritious, tasty, warm food is supposed to give happiness to everyone. It should never be a source of extreme stress!
When he turned one, I decided to not force him to eat. I would offer food, and if he refused, I would happily say ok and try another time again. I also started offering him a wide variety of foods. His daycare nurses were asked to give feedback about his food preferences. Apparently, he would ask for food from other kids dabbas. :) I would send whatever he seemed interested in.
I started reading, joined multiple Facebook groups related to food and nutrition for babies, completed an online course on child nutrition. I read about unhealthy food and what it does to our food habits in the long-term and to our bodies. How much more it hurts the bodies of our little ones. I read, read and read, applied all my knowledge and listened to my basic parental instincts. It started working.
Neil started developing a keen interest in food. He would smell wonderful aromas of different foods and crawl to the kitchen, point and ask me for the food cooking in the pan. I would always let him taste. I will never forget the amused expressions on his face. He would ask for more and I would happily oblige.
Krish and I also started eating better food so that he does not get exposed to the wrong sort of food already. As much as possible, we would all sit together and eat homecooked food. We would be positive about what we ate. It slowly started making a big impact on how Neil perceived food.
Refined Sugar: I am chided time and again for not giving him refined sugar. "Why do you restrict him? I don't restrict my child. Why are you torturing him?" Really, people??
Have you seen Neil munch on a capsicum? Have you seen how happy he is? What is more harmful in the long run - refined sugar or capsicum? Not to mention that he loves his savoury food as much as sweet food. He does not need to be tricked into eating good food by dipping it in sugar at all.
Did you know that Neil has a tooth since birth? Yes, I was equally shocked to see a tooth jutting out of his tiny gums. Today, that tooth looks yellower than the rest of his new teeth. It is my constant source of worry that it may be the first one to catch cavities if we are not careful right now. Do you know how tooth decay spreads? Do you know how much he hates brushing? Isn't it best that we avoid too much sugar knowing the situation? Can you imagine a little boy sitting in a dentist's chair?? It will be the worst trauma ever. No one ever thinks at all while giving their gyan or before shoving a piece of cake into a child's mouth!
Since the time he's turned 2.5, I have started letting him try "restricted" foods as well - so that he does not go overboard when he actually gets to taste them. But there are ways to ensure this - for e.g. he knows that cakes are only meant for special occasions and he may eat to his heart's content. Unlike the popular belief, children know when to stop eating, they do NOT overeat. You need to leave it up to them and their own instincts. They have very strong food instincts.
Today my boy is as skinny as he always was. His weight is also low. But he is super-active, super-smart, has an amazing sense of humour. Yes, he falls ill very often. I have been told that he falls ill because I do not give him junk food. <
>. He falls ill because he is exposed to so many things - kids in daycare, germs in the cab we travel in, germs from his nanny (and indirectly her school-going son) and the street-kids he interacts with everyday near our house. We do not restrict his interactions, because learning happens through human-interactions - not by being confined at home. I believe all of this is only making him stronger and stronger - mentally and physically.
Neil does not live in a sterilized environment that kids in foreign countries or kids who mostly stay at home enjoy. Fewer people in India have any basic sense of hygiene. When he falls ill - and it happens very often - it takes an iron will-power to sail through. Illness is obviously harder on him than us. There is a lot more that we go through than what meets the eye.
So as a comeback to the mum who passed the judgment without a forethought - you have a disorder. Don't worry, it is very common. Symptoms are - passing judgments and giving unsolicited advice to another mother without knowing her child. I just told you our story. And I would love to hear yours and what made you pass that insensitive comment - am sure there is a reason. Am all ears.
(For all those who are still skeptical, please join the Baby-led weaning (Self-fed babies) group on Facebook. Although I did not follow BLW to the T, I learnt sooooooooooooo much from this group.)