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Weight is just a number. If we moms can come to terms with this fact half our anxieties will be reduced the next minute. There can hardly exist a mom who is happy even when everybody, strangers included, don’t mince their words when commenting on the “poor baby” who looks so thin and unattended! Every other person is well equipped to send you on a never ending guilt trip until you start believing firmly that you are a horrible mom!
My own mom crucifies me for the weight of my kids. But, well, a healthy kid in her opinion falls under the category of obese children in my point of view! My kids eat from all food groups – fruits, grains, vegetables (err.. not so much), nuts and dairy and so, I and my paediatrician are doing happy dance about their growth. Sometimes I feel the weight is all in the head, the kids may really be normal!
So, what do you do?
Let's begin with putting away the worry and, if we succeed, then let's move on to trusting our paediatricians when they say, it's OK. When I owned a preschool and daycare a few years back, I was partly held responsible for some of the kids being underweight. A few parents cornered me and conveniently blamed me for sending the lunch boxes half full. My patient counselling on why I shouldn’t be encouraging force feeding didn’t seem to go down well with them as they thought I was covering up my inefficiencies. Well, to err is human and to freak out is mom! I understood their anxieties.
I decided to invite a paediatrician to visit us and give a brief talk about underweight babies and eating habits in toddlers. Even after a few years, what he taught remains fresh in my mind, because every other mom I know seems to be worried sick about her child not eating properly or her child being underweight and, I have been repeating his words of wisdom over and over again. So let's begin. Again.
Is your child really underweight?
The first thing to determine is if your child is really underweight or it’s a result of your comparison with other kids or it's just a feeling that your kid is not eating too well.
Whatever be the reason, these are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before picking up your excess baggage of guilt and worry.
If you answer NO to most of the questions and your paediatrician sees no cause to worry, it is most likely that your baby, though seemingly underweight, is still doing great.
It is also very essential to note that weight on the growth chart is just a pointer and should be understood after discussing it with the paediatrician as the growth chart comes with its own limitations. The weight should be proportional to the height and the paediatrician will check the BMI (Body Mass Index) and various other aspects pertaining to your child and decide if the kid is really underweight. For example, if the height of your child is less, it is likely that the proportional weight is going to be comparatively less too.
What you should not do if your baby is, indeed, underweight?
Given that the doctor has not found any pressing medical reason and is positive about your child’s growth then, apart from not pulling your hairs in despair, following are the stuffs you should not do if your baby is underweight.
1. Constant snacking
As a mother of an underweight child, we easily become prone to the “kuch to kha le” syndrome. As the child refuses to eat a proper meal, we tend to continuously give some big and small snacks to the child thinking “mera baccha kuch to kha le!” (let my child eat something, or rather, anything!). This will not give enough time for your child to feel hungry and will never eat a full meal. Result – the child doesn’t get enough nutrition to put on a healthy weight. Avoid the urge to give food without proper breaks in between snacks.
2. Sugar loaded fruit juices
This is another favorite trick that I have tried myself (Alas! Even I am mother of a fussy eater) and is a very bad idea. As an extension of “kuch to kha le” syndrome, I used to give my child fruit juices thinking I am providing her with good nutrition. What I forgot is that the sugar in the juice gives a temporary fullness and a sugar high, but their energy quickly dissipates, makes them irritable and they don’t even get the required energy, protein and fat.
3. Don’t focus on quantity
My mother considers my kids to be perennially malnourished and, in my absence, loads their plates with huge quantity of food that even I cannot finish in one sitting. What would help the little ones is to given them a plate filled with small quantities of a “variety” of food. It is no good to stuff them with a lot of food which they eat half heartedly. The trick is also to use a big plate instead of a small one because it causes an illusion of less food. And, what you see is what you believe! Even if they eat very small quantities of a variety of food, we can be rest assured that they are getting multiple nutrients essential for their growth.
4. Binging on fast foods
I remember my daughter was just over one, when we friends were enjoying pizzas and soft drinks. My daughter happened to grab a piece of it and devoured a mouthful in no time. She was smacking her lips and asking for more, to the utter amusement of all the 15 other people at our table. I was the only odd one out who was freaking out and I was blamed for not letting her have her share!
Well, let me begin with listing all the odd reasons why we moms are blamed for!
The point is, kids are wired to love junk and when they are binging on a variety of fast foods, they are only filling their systems with empty calories and toxins, sans nutrition. I am myself guilty of giving her cheese slices as a meal after being subjected to “kuch to kha le” syndrome! What we need is healthy fat and a balanced nutrition for our light weight lovelies.
5. Stuffing them with protein powders
It is argued that even an underweight child gets enough protein from whatever they eat and a protein powder, per se, is not a necessity. Moreover, a protein powder does not have all the required nutrients, so, it is similar to stuffing kids with sugary juices. Even if you do give protein powder, then it should never substitute a meal and should be given in very limited quantities. Ensure to consult a doctor before giving protein powders to your child. Always, ask yourself, do you want a fat baby or a healthy baby?
6. Giving a stressful environment to the baby
It is said that a stressful family environment can interfere with the child’s growth. If the parents are fighting or are undergoing undue stress, it can spill over to the kids and affect their eating habits, emotional and physical health. As much as possible, make whatever changes necessary to give your child a happy and positive home environment.
7. Do not force feed
As a last resort we invoke the help of all the ghosts, police uncle or doggie and threaten them to open their mouth, stuff the food in and somehow win the battle - tentatively. Force Feeding might have hardly done any good to any child! In fact, it can create an aversion for food; the child may totally lose interest in exploring food and view mealtimes as a punishment or an ordeal. Mealtimes should always be a happy one with the entire family sitting and enjoying their food; it gives a relaxed environment for the child to experiment and appreciate the food.Baby led weaning (BLW) is a great way to let the kids decide what they eat and how much they eat. Empower them to make decisions pertaining to food, let them experiment, and let them enjoy feeding themselves. Feeding is their responsibility too, not always mothers’. Your duty is to provide them with a variety. Again, eating at the dining table with family helps a lot. Offer them all the varieties that you eat during meal times. Treat them as equals who are capable of making their own decisions. And, when they do, appreciate them.
8. Look at the milestones, not weighing scale
As i've told earlier, weight is just a number and should not be considered as a full and final evidence for a healthy baby. If your infant or toddler is achieving his/her milestones on time and is being active, then it is more likely that your child is doing just fine.
No two babies are same and there is definitely no blueprint to determine a healthy baby. Weight, certainly is not a fully qualified factor. Most of the times, its we mothers who “feel” that kids are not well fed. Never ask advices on social groups and blindly follow it to the mark as the people advising on these groups are also mothers struggling to make ends meet. What works for them may not work for you. Use your discretion and seek advice from your paediatrician and don’t feel pressured to perform. If there are no illnesses, disorders or other medical concerns (in which case the doctor will guide you) and the kids are meeting all their milestones, then continue breastfeeding, give them a variety of age appropriate food and simply enjoy your motherhood.