Why is it that all the advice parents-to-be get is all fluff and no substance? In the breastfeeding class, the lactation consultant tells expectant moms that if breastfeeding hurts they're doing it wrong. Then there are books on making baby food, leaving parents with the impression that they'll be doing that for several months. And finally there's the "if you feed them healthy from day one, they will always eat healthy" advice that makes every new parent feel at ease.
Then parents find out the hard way that it's all a lie. Breastfeeding is excruciatingly painful (at first) for mom no matter how right she is doing it. Baby ends up preferring finger foods, leaving families with a freezer stocked with the pureed stuff. And a good portion of the healthy food fed those first few years gets rejected around toddlerhood.
So here's what every parent needs to know about feeding kids. And the sooner, the better!
1. Breastfeeding is hard, but gets easier down the line: I had a terrible time breastfeeding my first child and it caused me so much pain and guilt. I didn't have time for anything else like cooking a decent meal or even taking a shower.
New moms need to know that even when everything goes well, breastfeeding is rough (and painful) in those first 6-8 weeks. That's because no one can help with feedings, your nipples are getting destroyed and you're tired from giving birth and not sleeping. The best thing to do is ask for support, stock up on frozen meals and wait it out. It gets better, especially as baby takes in more food, sleeps more and your nipples get stronger.
2. Baby food is a short feeding stage: At about 9 months my daughter started feeding herself and resisted most purees (except yogurt and cereal -- IF she could have finger foods with it). This big decision about making baby food all of a sudden seemed silly. Why not just mash a banana, blend fruit on the spot or puree the dinner you are eating?
Parents need to know that when it comes to feeding babies, things change fast. Start with purees but gradually up the consistency and then offer soft, easy to grasp finger foods. When your child is feeding herself, invite her to eat with the family is as long as the food is cut up. Forget those hours of making and freezing batches of food. Take a nap instead!
3. No matter what you do, your kid will go through some type of picky stage: When my daughter first turned picky, my research led me to real scientific explanations for it. First, around age 2, growth slows, causing a drop in appetite. Something called food neophobia (fear of new food) peaks between ages 2 and 5 which is why little ones reject new foods. Experts believe it's an adaptive trait from times when consuming toxic plants was a real risk to mobile toddlers.
Parents need to know that picky eating is likely to occur and it's not their fault. Instead of fighting your child, follow Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding, offer regular meals and snacks and make sure there is always something at the table kids accept. Seeing your child develop a healthy relationship with food will make it all worth it.
4. You're not a bad parent if your child doesn't devour vegetables: Vegetables top the list of foods kids start rejecting early on. Part of the reason is that young kids tend to be more sensitive to the bitter compounds in vegetables. This lessens with time -- and isn't true for every kid -- but it helps to give parents an understanding behind the behavior.
Parents need to be know that constantly nagging and pushing kids to eat veggies because they are "healthy" only makes matters worse. One study showed preschoolers ate less of a snack food when they were read a story about its healthfulness. Instead, work on tasty ways to include vegetables so your child associates them with enjoyment.
5. A sweets policy helps you and your child: When I get emails from moms worried about their kid's sweet obsession it's typically around age three. This is a time children become more aware of their overly sweet environment and start begging for these foods. I remember when my second child was three and he'd sit at the table and yell: "I want cookies!"
Parents need to know that managing non-nutritious food is just as important as providing the healthy stuff. First off, kids under two don't need regular offerings of sweets because their nutritional needs are high and their stomachs and calorie needs are small (plus, they aren't even asking for it!). But after that, develop a plan for regular offerings so your child learns how to fit sweet foods in without feeling deprived or going hog wild.
Knowing the realities of feeding kids helps everyone enjoy mealtime a bit more. Because when things get off track, you will resist blaming yourself and your kid. And you can get back to the tough and rewarding job of feeding little ones.