by Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD
I have a love/hate relationship with feeding my son. I love watching him try new foods and learn skills like grabbing food in his hand. But on the other side, I am scared he will choke on something (he always seems to gag a lot) and I’ve had many moments of “am I doing this right?”
The only thing I know for sure is that there is no “right” way to feed a baby. As many mom friends have told me, it’s up to your mom instincts and a little bit of guidance from a doctor or dietitian. As a dietitian who doesn’t work with infants, I needed some help. I bought one of the best books, “Fearless Feeding” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. (http://fearlessfeeding.com/) These two dietitians have saved me!! I also decided to sign up for an Infant Safety course to review CPR and choking. The class was scary but I feel more prepared. I also now know the difference between choking and gagging, which I learned is common when babies learn how to chew and swallow.
I’ve read the infant section and learned a lot so far. Now I know what’s appropriate for an infant in terms of food groups, portions, and signals to know hunger vs. fullness. I also have learned about introducing puree’s vs. baby-led weaning and slowly learning how to feed himself. The authors also review that as the amount of food goes up, the amount of formula will go down. My 9.5 month old is now eating 3 meals/day consisting of every food group. He mostly does purees and lumpy foods, but we’ve been working up to finger foods and he’s getting better at the pincher grasp every day. He will mostly eat oatmeal, soft mushy fruit, pureed veggies, potatoes, hummus, avocado or guacamole, fish, scrambled eggs, and bread. His favorite food is whole milk flavored yogurt- it tastes like dessert to me! My infant also needs me to feed him with a spoon vs. other babies might feed themselves at this point. I’ve learned to let him practice this in his own time. He has weaned himself down to 4 bottles per day, ranging anywhere from 4-8 oz (all depending on how much food he’s eaten). I’m still surprised at how variable my child’s appetite can be. Ellyn Satter (http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/) created the Division of Responsibility, which says the parent is in charge of what and the child/infant is in charge of how much (and everything else). I try my best to apply these principles now of healthy feeding behaviors to create a healthy relationship with feeding from the beginning.
I admit that even though I “know” a lot about this, I’m not a perfect mom. But who is? There are days when my child gets too much sugar and there are days when I realize he didn’t get any veggies. But there are also days where he eats a lot of healthy foods and I know he’s getting nutrition. It’s all about balance, variety, and moderation. These concepts aren’t just great for adults and healthy eating, but can be applied to children of all ages.
Raising a Child to Love Their Body
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD
I was recently out with a group of “mom friends”, having one of those conversations talking about anything and everything related to our kids, all under 1 year old. Our conversation turned into an honest discussion about raising our children to be anti-dieting, body image-loving, positive self-esteemed individuals. My friends were worried about being a good example to their daughters, teaching self-esteem, and hoping that their girls will learn to love their bodies. These moms were especially worried about raising girls, but this is a topic for every mom- mothers of sons included! I claim to be an expert in this area but it’s honestly something I’m concerned about too. I had just talked about losing the last few pounds of my post-pregnancy weight 10 minutes before this part of the conversation came up. My point is that my advice for moms and dads is something I am going to be working on as well. I think moms can all learn from one another and support each other to raise confident children.
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Here are my favorite tips:
- Eliminate fat talk: Take a good look at yourself and your environment. Do you criticize yourself in the mirror? Do you complain about being “fat”? Your kids will learn from you. Eliminate this kind of dialogue in your life to other people and especially to yourself.
- Feel good about your body: Replace the fat talk with positive talk. Do something each day to make you feel good about your body. One of my favorite tricks is something I heard from a therapist: Take a tube of red lipstick and write on your mirror “I am beautiful because…” and everytime you look in your mirror, you have to answer the question.
- Model healthy behaviors with food: Show your child a healthy relationship with food by eating balanced meals and snacks. Don’t restrict and binge. Have a wide variety of food in your diet, including food from all food groups, including nutritious and less nutritious foods. Have desserts and fruits and vegetables in your life, and teach your child how to enjoy these foods in a healthy way.
- Make time to move with your family: Exercise as a way to feel good, not just burn calories. Pick an activity you love and make time for it. Treat this as part of your self-care routine.
- Introduce the concepts of “hungry” and “full” as early as possible: Children are born with the skill to stop eating when they are full but gradually lose this with environmental influence. In order to prevent the dieting “restriction” mindset, it’s important to teach children it’s natural to eat when they are hungry. Therefore, it will be natural to stop eating when full and satisfied.
- Do not label food (or yourself) as “good” and “bad”: Every food is included in a healthy lifestyle, no matter what. Restriction of “bad foods” can lead to bingeing. Don’t say “oh I had a good/bad day” because nutrition is not all-or-nothing!
- Never force your child to clean his/her plate: This will alter kid’s perception of how much they should eat. If they don’t eat at this particular meal, there is always the next meal or snack to make up for missed food.
- Talk about how bodies come in all different shapes and sizes: Respect other body types and talk about how people look different because everyone is unique and special.
- Spread the word: I love movements like “Operation Beautiful”, which spread the message of positive self-esteem and self-worth. Teach children to participate and have fun doing so!
Starting Solids in a Positive Way
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDE, CEDRD, CDN
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If you ask a hundred pediatricians or dietitians how to start feeding your baby, I can almost guarantee you’d get a hundred different responses. Some professionals believe in baby purees, while others believe in baby-led weaning. Some professionals say start with rice cereal, others say avocado or even sweet potato. Even when to start feeding your baby solid foods is debatable (although most people would agree between 4–6 months). I felt confused as a new mom—and I’m a dietitian!!
I got the go-ahead to start feeding from my pediatrician at my son’s four-month checkup, and we started a week later. I knew with my mom’s intuition that it really didn’t matter what food we started with—we would eventually figure out a good plan. However, I really wanted to start off with feeding in a positive way, knowing that these were amazing habits to keep for the whole family. I’m definitely not perfect, but here are some guidelines I’m attempting to follow:
1. Just like breastfeeding or bottle feeding, I’m trying to learn his hunger and fullness cues when it comes to solids. I remind myself that when he gets annoyed and doesn’t open his mouth, he’s full and the meal is over (even if there is a lot of food left).
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2. I’m doing my best to limit distractions like having the TV on in the background or toys nearby. Just like adults, children get distracted by their surroundings.
3. I’m usually eating with my baby during a feeding. When he sees me eat, he tries to grab what I’m eating. It’s never too early to start sharing meals together, even if (for now) we’re eating different foods.
4. I’m dedicated to spreading positive messages about food, including what I say about my own food choices and my own body in front of my child. My five-month-old may not understand this, but other people I’m with everyday certainly do. I want my son to grow up learning about health in a way that makes him feel good about his choices and confident about his body. It’s never too early to make this a priority.
Postpartum Body Image
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD
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I had a very easy pregnancy and felt great almost the entire time. What I didn’t expect was the shock and roller-coaster ride of emotions and body image after giving birth. Not a lot of people tell you about the intense ups and downs during the postpartum period, especially when it comes to your body. Everyone says, “Enjoy every minute!!” and “They are only this small once!!” I remember feeling guilty thinking I wasn’t a fan of the newborn stage and felt so uncomfortable in this new body post-baby. I would ask myself, “Why do I feel so ‘blah’?” All I’m supposed to be doing is sitting on the couch and breastfeeding. The only expectation is to bond with baby Connor, how hard can that be?”
Throughout my pregnancy I told myself I would get back to my normal self as soon as possible. I didn’t care much about my weight but just wanted to feel good about my body. I’m a very active person who loves yoga and exercise. It felt amazing to participate in those activities while I was pregnant. I also enjoyed gaining weight, knowing that the baby was growing and I was eating to support a healthy pregnancy. I went back to the doctor a week after giving birth and had lost twenty pounds right away. “Well that was pretty easy,” I thought to myself as I walked out the door… “I bet I’ll have my ‘normal’ body back in no time.” So five more weeks pass by, and I walk in for my six-week postpartum checkup. Those five weeks were probably the hardest weeks of my life, as the initial “high” of giving birth wore off, and life with a newborn started to actually sink in: no sleep, no activity, and increased anxiety. I get on the scale at my six-week checkup, and the nurse weighs me and says, “Well, we don’t see that too often! You actually went up!” I kept on telling myself that weight wasn’t important to me, but in that moment all I could think about was the annoying negative body image voice winning over my healthy self.
Life went on, but something shifted in me around the three-to-four-month mark. I went back to work and felt fulfilled in my career, Connor started sleeping more, and I started to introduce formula and wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding (which honestly took away a lot of stress). I also asked for help with babysitting so I could get out of the house more often. I started to not care as much about my postpartum weight loss and started to focus more on doing something each day for myself and self-care for a healthy body. I felt myself change both mentally and physically as more self-care happened. I am now feeling so blessed and happy, and my anxiety has decreased. I am walking more with my mom friends and babies, going to weekly “Mommy and Me” yoga classes, and am training for a five-mile race on Thanksgiving Day. I am also slowing down each day, cutting back on my “to-do lists,” and just taking it one day at a time with my son with no expectations. My body feels strong as it has now fully recovered from childbirth, and I feel almost “back to normal.” But guess what? I weighed myself the other day out of pure curiosity and wouldn’t you know—my weight was the exact same number it was at my six-week postpartum checkup. Thanks to a healthier attitude and lots of self-care, I feel incredible both physically and mentally. I also feel blessed that I can teach my son what it means to love your body no matter what the scale says.
Tips for Eating Well with a Newborn
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD
Going into pregnancy, labor, and delivery I read everything I could get my hands on about “life with a newborn”. However there really is no way to describe the emotional roller coaster you go through until you experience it yourself. With that being said, self-care is so important during this time and nutrition is one of the most important self-care aspects (in my dietitian opinion of course). Whether a mom had a vaginal birth or C-section her body just went through a MARATHON and now needs to recover. Calories, carbs, protein, fat, and all the vitamins and minerals that food provide help your body heal from labor and delivery. Here are my top 7 tips for getting in proper nutrition with a newborn.
Happy 3 months to Connor!
- Don’t think “weight loss” right away: Thank your body for what it just did, it’s perfect in every way right now no matter what you weigh. Moms may also need extra calories if breastfeeding (especially from healthy fats). Make sure you take a multivitamin too.
- Try to listen to hunger and satiety: Are you eating now just because you have 5 minutes or are you truly hungry? Or are you absolutely starving because you haven’t eaten anything in 6 hours? Try not to let yourself get too hungry or too full to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
- Have snacks and easy to grab foods: I personally ate with one hand the first few weeks of my son’s life. My favorite grab and go healthy foods are sandwiches (turkey and cheese or peanut butter and banana and honey), protein bars, trail mix, hard boiled eggs, roasted chicpeas, yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit. Also packing some of these staples in your diaper bag is a good idea.
- Go for EASY meals. No need to be a gourmet chef in the first few months. I stocked up on frozen Steamfresh veggies and rice to throw in the microwave as sides for a quick dinner. Coupled with grilled meat (thanks to my husband) dinner was ready in under 15 minutes. I also tried to make double recipes anytime I actually did cook to have lots of leftovers and even froze some meals.
- Notice how refined sugar affects your mood, and hunger? New moms know cookies are quick and tasty. However, just notice if this helps your body or later causes body feelings and signals to become more difficult to address. If you need your pure sugar fix consider eating it near a meal or with a more substantial food at snack. This will help to moderate blood sugar and get you full.
- Get enough sleep: This really isn’t realistic because your sleep will be interrupted for months but sleep has a lot to do with our hunger and satiety cues and metabolism (and sanity!). Just know the more you can get the better even if it’s not your usual 8 hours.
- Don’t stress about nutrition: Ironically this is probably the most important tip. Babies can feel our stress and react to it even if they don’t understand everything that’s going on. Don’t stress about losing weight, getting in all the nutrients you need- just try to do your best and that’s “good enough” which is mentally better than trying to be “perfect”.