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Toddler Tips

Living on Air?

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18, No. 2, March-April 2001 pp. 61-63

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My two-year-old son seems to live on air. He enjoyed solids until he was about 18 months old, but since then he seems constantly on the go and doesn't like to stop to eat. I am thankful that he nurses frequently so that I know he is getting some nutrition. But he looks thin compared to other children his age and I worry that he needs more calories than he is getting. Our pediatrician said that he is healthy and we don't need to worry unless he becomes anemic or displays developmental delays. My mother-in-law says that if I stop nursing he would be forced to eat more. Have other mothers had success in encouraging their young children to eat more?

Response

Sometimes it is difficult to see that our toddlers really are getting plenty to eat. They seem so busy all the time and it seems that they just have more important things to do than eating.

When I became concerned that my daughter wasn't eating enough I started keeping a food and nursing diary and tried to look at what she ate over a week's time rather than a day's time. I found that she really was eating plenty of healthful foods, but spread out over a week with lots of beneficial nursing in between. I noticed that there would be some days where she would eat only a bite of French toast, a nibble of cheese, and a forkful or two of dinner. But the next day she would eat two bowls of cereal, three pieces of cheese toast, a bowl of soup with crackers, and all her dinner along with an extra serving of rice and vegetables.

I found keeping small healthful snacks available (such as cheese squares, cut-up fruit, dried apples and raisins, and whole grain crackers) gave her something healthy to snack on yet also allowed her to maintain her busy and energetic activities. I found that she ate meals best when I sat with her at the table and ate my meal too. I also learned to be creative in preparing food that would appeal to her.

Your doctor has stated that your child is healthy, so whatever he may be lacking in solid foods he is getting from your milk. Consider what he might be lacking if he weren't still nursing.

Michelle Leifur Reid
Mobile AL USA

Response

Here's a fun way to make food accessible if your son is too busy to sit down to eat. Take an ice cube tray and collect an assortment of healthful snacks cut in little pieces. Some ideas are tiny cubes of pumpernickel bread, cheese sticks, dried fruit pieces, shreds or cubes of vegetables, frozen blueberries or peas, whole wheat crackers, cooked noodles or beans, and fingers of cooked chicken. Place the "snack tray" on a low table or stool so that he passes by it frequently. He might get a real kick out of helping himself and may start eating more. Try to limit the amount of juices he is drinking. juices fill up little people without delivering the nutrition they need.

Ruth McAllister
Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

Response

If you stop nursing, your son may be forced to eat more, but the foods he eats will be nutritionally inferior! The nutrients in your milk are much better than the extra calories he can get from any other source.

I look at my toddler's breastfeeding as his "daily multi-vitamin." Instead of chewable, he has liquid vitamins, and they come with extra hugs and holding from mom! Your son also enjoys being close to you—that's another reason to continue to nurse.

Toddler serving sizes are much smaller than serving sizes for adults. Toddlers will not allow themselves to starve. If he is hungry, he will eat. I have learned to pay close attention to what and when my son eats. I noticed he was eating more than I ever thought. I found that if he does not eat breakfast, he eats a good lunch. If he eats a light lunch and only a few things at dinner, then he will be ready to eat another meal later in the evening. If he eats little during the day, he often nurses more frequently at night and the next day I will encourage him to snack more so that he doesn't go to bed hungry.

We sit down together for our meals. Watching the rest of the family eat encourages him to want to eat (to be like us). Whatever he does not eat, I leave at his spot for about two hours (any longer can cause some foods to spoil). This way it is available for him if and when he is hungry. He may also get interested in eating it if he sees it. I leave it up to him. I have spied him climbing up for a snack a few times.

Jennifer McNeeley
Fairview Park OH USA

Response

My almost three-year-old son was weaned at 15 months and he is just as inclined to "live on air" as yours seems to be. Every mother I know has said that her kids "ate nothing" as toddlers and they have turned out just fine. I think that the high activity level of toddlers is what makes them seem to give up eating. Toddlers hate to miss out on anything, so they just get too busy playing to stop and eat. What has worked for me is to leave out some reasonably non-perishable, healthy snacks like raisins and cereal, or apple slices and crackers on my son's play table so that he can eat as he goes. Surprisingly enough, my son has seemed more willing to eat his meals since we started having the snack bowl than when I was telling him to wait for lunch or dinner.

I don't think nursing has anything to do with your son not eating; he just sounds like a normal two-year-old to me. I often wish that I had known when my son was little, that toddler nursing is okay, because on those days when he is too busy playing to eat I could at least know that he was getting some good nutrition from my milk!

Heather A. Biggs
Bremerton WA USA

Response

Thank goodness you are receiving reassurance from your health care provider. That puts you ahead of me at your son's age. My toddler (now almost two) lived similarly on my milk and air, from the time he was 12 months to 20 months. I had to get over my own anxiety through the help of other mothers who had been there.

That said, I can tell you a little of what worked for us: holidays, buffets, and (quiet) potlucks were sanity-savers! All of these really gave us a chance to expose him to new foods, and I didn't have to do all the work myself. At buffets, we often saw him try things that surprised us, and we would get new ideas about foods to try at home. It was at a buffet that we realized how much he enjoyed finger foods and veggies he could handle with his hands, like peas, corn and broccoli. We also found that no matter how potatoes were cooked, he would simply not eat them. That helped us to plan for other things to serve when we wanted to eat potatoes at home. In this whole process, I came to accept the fact that we were helping him building his palate, through trial and error. Above all, have fun!

Victoria Smith
Athens GA USA

Response

I have four sons, only two of whom were breastfed as toddlers and who are now all grown. Each has had a different approach to food. One never stopped eating and another never seemed to start. One never touches anything green and another's favorite foods are broccoli and Brussels sprouts. One became more opinionated about what he ate as he grew older and others started out opinionated and mellowed with age. Now that they are young men, there is almost no difference in their height, weight, build, or health. It seems to me that genetics have had far more impact on their adult size than how much they ate either as toddlers or as they grew up. Your son is probably just the right size.

Eileen Harrison
Rennes, France

Response

As a father of three, and a pediatrician in my spare time, I have frequently observed that children "stop eating" in their second year. The reason is that growth velocity is higher in the first year. Normal, healthy children need, as an average, the same amount of food at 18 months as at nine months, and some children actually need less food at 18 months. If their parents think, "he is twice as old, so let's give him twice as much food," the difference between expected and real food intake will seem large.

Every healthy child who is allowed to eat as much as he wants, will eat exactly the amount of food he needs. So, please, don't do anything to encourage your son to eat more. Most of the "encouraging" things that are suggested by friends and family members are fortunately useless, so the child eats exactly as much as before, but not as happily as before. Should any method succeed, it would be dangerous because the child would eat more than he needs. Even a 10 percent increase in daily intake would result in obesity in the long run. Ironically, that small increase might not satisfy your mother-in law.

Being very intelligent (as breastfed children often are), your son thinks, "If I can eat only a small amount of food, let's have only the very best: the food with more nutrients, more balanced nutrition, more digestible, and with a better taste." Guess which one he will choose? Your milk!

Carlos González, MD
LLL Health Advisory Council Barcelona, Spain

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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