Q&A: feeding problems

Great comments yesterday. Some of you have some heavy stuff on your minds! Much worse than my "problem" of having to make several dozen Norwegian vaffler for the end-of-the-year International lunch today...

You know those composite sketches artists do? Well, I'm going to smash together a couple of emails I've gotten recently on the same topic into one post.

Several parents write some version of:

"My son is almost 2-1/2 and can use a spoon and fork just fine -- but he won't. We call it pasha mode: He waits for us to feed him, which we eventually do because we don't want every meal (especially in the morning when we're trying to get to work) to take 3 hours. Whether we sit with him or not, eat our own meals at the same time or not, offer him finger foods or food that he needs to eat with utensils (or both), he waits. Sometimes he'll start by himself and then say "You do it." It's driving us nuts! Please tell us what to do."

Pasha mode--heh. This is just the flip side of the same old control game back from this post and several others just like it. Assuming he doesn't have a metabolic or feeding disorder/allergy/GI imbalance of some sort, and it sounds like he doesn't because he lets you feed him just fine, it sounds like he's trying to exert control.

I think you have two choices (you probably have more, but these two are what I'm coming up with now): A) Keep feeding him until he grows past this stage and moves on and starts feeding himself, or B) Just ignore the food issue after you serve him his plate, and then when the meal is over clear away anything left on his plate.

Before I decided what to do, I'd check with his daycare provider (or anyone else he spends time with, if you're a SAH with this same problem) to find out how he eats for them all day. If he eats fine at school, then you know for 100% sure that it's all about control, and then it's just strategy for you. (Parenting: A Minute To Learn, A Lifetime To Master) Plus, you know that he's getting plenty of calories at daycare, so it's not going to hurt him if you choose option B above and he doesn't eat much for a few meals in a row.

If he doesn't eat all that well at daycare, and you really want to make sure he's eating a lot, then it may be worth it to you to choose A. In my mind, the problem in this situation isn't the feeding or the not feeding, but the control part of it, that you three are locked in a Battle Royale over eating. So by deciding that you will either just feed him straight off, or that you don't care how much eat eats, you remove the control as an element of the interaction.

Speaking of which, Sarah writes:

"I was wondering how to know if my baby has a feeding problem.  I know a lot of babies stop eating around a year, but I'm more concerned with the fact that my (almost) 11 month old just is not progressing from baby food to table foods AT ALL.  I have been told to "pack up" the baby food by 1 year of age and I just don't see how he won't starve if I expect him to eat only table foods in one month's time!  His repertoire of table foods is minuscule.  I wish I had never fed him the purees to start with.  I know some babies want "real food" and protest being spoonfed bland mush, but my baby is the opposite: I fear he will never move past baby cereals, which are still his staple and the only thing he eats a lot of consistently.  I don't think he has a swallowing problem, since he can manage finger feeding a total of about 5 items (toast/crackers/cheerios/muffins/quesadillas -- basically, carbs completely dry to the touch).  He has never, not once, picked up a fruit, vegetable or piece of meat and put it in his mouth.  Do I take away the baby food and hope he gets hungry enough to eat table foods?  Do I keep feeding him the jarred stuff?  Why can't this be easier???  I feel like I am losing my mind in frustration.  Any thoughts or advice?"

This, again, is all about control, but it's the control that the external culture has over Sarah in telling her there's something wrong if her son doesn't like table foods at this point.

All kids are different, just as all adults are different about what we eat and won't eat. I love tapioca pudding, but I know half of you just squirmed in horror and revulsion at the thought of tapioca. There are plenty of healthy normal children all over the world who are still consuming only breastmilk or formula up to and past a year because they're just not into food yet, even the mashed stuff. And some kids get so completely into table foods that they can barely choke down any milk once they start eating foods.

So I would pay more attention to how you feel about his eating. You know he can eat things with texture, so it sounds like he's just not choosing to. Do you feel in your gut like there's something wrong? If so, ask your pediatrician for a referral to have him tested by a speech therapist. If you don't have any strong feeling that there's anything out of place, then who cares when you're "supposed" to start feeding what? (The whole "stage" idea for jarred baby foods cracks me up because it's such a brilliant marketing gimmick.) He's going at his own pace, and it may not be what you'd like him to be doing, but he'll get there eventually. IME, some kids just sort of click into eating at around 13 months, so maybe that's what's going to happen to your guy.

For more support on following your child's lead on feeding, especially in the first year, here's the link again to my favorite study on babies and solids.

Please, everyone, contribute anecdotes about your kids' eating habits. If anyone does have kids with diagnosed feeding issues, could you walk us through how you knew and how it's resolving? I think it's helpful to have all sorts of data points so we all know what's normal, and what's normal but needs some extra help.