Navigating Relational Feeding in a Medically-Minded World: When Calories Aren’t the Whole Picture

For many families, weekly (sometimes daily) doctor and therapy appointments are the norm rather than the exception. They strive to make everything fit into the schedule, because doing so keeps their child “well”- or at least not sick- and hopefully making medical or developmental gains due to professional, sometimes intensive intervention.  This may be a temporary scenario, or not. For parents of chronically ill or medically fragile children, every day begins with a status check: Is he running a fever? Is she going to hold down her feeds today? Did I give her all of her meds on time? Why is he doing X? Then on to the scheduling and phone calls- to the doctor’s office to sign a request for records to be sent to the out-of-state specialist, to the insurance company to fight yet another battle about payment for the child’s numerous procedures and office visits. For the parents who live this reality, it can be mind-numbing and terrifying all at once. Having a child who is well is the exception rather than the rule. Being truly well, however, is not the same as not being sick. For many kids, they have never been truly “healthy”, as the WHO states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” What about these situations in otherwise “healthy” children? the baby who screams every time she sees a bottle, but takes a small amount when it is forced into her mouth the toddler who throws up at least once a day after being fed the preschooler who exists on Pediasure because he doesn’t...

Ask, “What’s Important Now” (WIN) to Help Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating

I was at a conference recently speaking about ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) with folks who treat eating disorders and some who provide early feeding support in the community. When I can, I reserve a chunk of time for discussion and Q and A– for selfish reasons, partly.  I almost always come away with some new tip, story, or information that has tremendously shaped my work over the years. I had mentioned research that dads tend to pressure children more with eating, and boys tend to be more pressured. (Our theory is that if boys fall on the smaller side of the growth curve, the tendency is to try to get them to eat more to be ‘big and strong.’ Boys also make up a higher percentage of children with extreme picky eating.) Anecdotally, Jenny and I find that more fathers than mothers tend to struggle with letting go of rules and pressure; one area in particular is manners. One attendee talked about her rural area where there are a lot of fathers who are in the military, and that she observes that these dads seem more insistent on rules, order, and compliance with manners. For one family struggling with extreme picky eating, there are many mealtime battles around trying to get the kids to eat with elbows off the table, knives and forks held a certain way, not too loud, all asking to be excused only after everyone has finished… The fighting about manners adds to the tension and conflict over who is eating what and how much. The first STEP when we work with parents (and in our book)...

Empathy and Understanding, The Foundation for Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating

“Learning what issues play a role in our son’s picky eating helped us  connect the dots and problem-solve creatively.” *You can learn to trust yourself and your child around food. That may feel impossible when you worry that she won’t eat enough or hasn’t progressed in months or years, and that things may even be getting worse.  Understanding what is typical, what isn’t and the many factors that can contribute to extreme picky eating (EPE) will help you decide what you can let go, what you can work on to support your child’s eating, and above all, how to not make matters worse. Feeding Challenges From Your Child’s Point of View   Children with EPE are not just being naughty or willful (though they are at times more than capable of being so). Helping a reluctant eater is not a matter of making her comply. Rather, there is almost always an underlying reason that starts a child and his parents down the path of feeding difficulties. Struggles can start in the neonatal intensive care unit, during the transition to self-feeding, or in the tricky toddler phase. Understanding the factors that may contribute to your child’s challenges and the dynamics at play can help you empathize and facilitate her eating with confidence. Here are some of the main reasons why a child might struggle with eating (with a focus on sensory challenges and a few resources focused on understanding): Medical Challenges: “It hurts! It doesn’t feel good!” Contributing medical issues must be ruled out or addressed. These might include allergies, reflux, or severe constipation—basically anything that can cause pain or make a child feel poorly. Young children...

5 Tips to Support, Not Sabotage, Your Child’s Appetite

Four- year-old Nathan ate fewer than ten foods, “failed” twelve months of behavioral and sensory feeding therapies, and was holding steady at the first percentile for weight. Medical and oral-motor work-up was unremarkable. On the advice of a dietitian, his mom offered his favorite straw cup with Pediasure several times a day, which he would sometimes sip. Mom, Elise tried effusive praise and rewards of stickers for any bites he would take, but this was becoming less and less effective. Mom described Nathan as cautious, not overly anxious, but “incredibly strong-willed.” She shared, “If he even thinks we want him to eat something, he shuts down. The only food he has tried in the past year was entirely on his terms, usually away from home.” Elise describes their routine: 6:30– 7:00 a.m.: sippy cup of milk— Nathan enjoys cuddle time in bed with mother, father, and baby sister, who gets a bottle at the same time 8– 9:15 a.m.: at the table for breakfast (with cartoons) 10– 11:30 a.m.: snack, sips of Pediasure and crackers while wandering around 12– 1:30 p.m.: lunch (with iPad) 3– 4:00 p.m.: snack (crackers while playing) 5– 6:45 p.m.: dinner, with Mom, Dad and sibling, Nathan is last to leave the table Nathan’s story is not uncommon, and illustrates five opportunities to support appetite: 1. Phase out the morning pre-breakfast drink. Many families use supplements or milk to support calories and nutrition, giving a sippy cup or bottle first thing when their children are likely to drink a good amount, often with a cuddle. Alas, this kills appetite for breakfast, but parents may fail to make the connection....

Feeding Contraption for Convenience Doesn’t Make the Cut

When I came across this new invention that made it on to Shark Tank recently, my first thought was “huh”. The “Beebo’s industry-leading technology holds your baby’s bottle for you, allowing you to use your free hand without restriction.” When describing what the Beebo does, the biggest draw for parents is that it is “hands-free”.  According to the manual found online, here are some of the perks: “Hands free feeding lets you: Read a book to your baby. Answer the phone. Use the remote.” Digging into what these perks actually mean is what got me, though.  Let’s take them one at a time. Read a book to your baby. Yes, reading to your baby is a good thing. But where are your eyes when you are reading? On the book. NOT on your baby. When you are feeding a baby, especially a newborn, it is very important to pay attention to their cues and signals. Is the flow too fast? Do they need a break? When the bottle is tilted continuously like this contraption does, the baby does not have control over the flow of the milk, so the milk can flow more quickly than your baby can swallow, increasing the risk of choking or aspiration (liquid in the lungs). If the baby falls asleep while the bottle is still in her mouth and you aren’t looking at her (because you are reading a book or looking at the TV/phone), she is at risk for aspiration as well because the milk keeps flowing into her mouth and she isn’t actively swallowing. Making the feeding the priority creates the opportunity to...

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