Whenever I talk to dads of fussy eaters, I am amazed by how cool they seem. It is almost as if mums imagine their child’s fussiness. Whenever I talk to mums, I hear stories about relationships gone sour over feeding their child, be it with professionals or peers.
This blog is a bit of role reversal therapy for our cool dads out there, and also for professionals who still don’t hear what mums are saying: “I am overwhelmed”, “I am so stressed out”, “this makes me feel terribly guilty”. Sometimes mums prefer not to talk about it, for fear of being judged or pushed to feed in ways that don’t feel right. Sometimes the thing mums really need is an injection of compassion from other mums.
Guilt-inducing advice starts with pregnancy: you are not supposed to eat this, you shouldn’t have that, you need to limit your weight gain to this. The standards are set pretty high for mums to associate their every single move with the health of their baby from pregnancy onwards. Recently my niece, who is pregnant with her second child and fit as a fiddle, tells me her obstetrician told her to exercise to raise her and her baby’s heart beat, I mean, really? I know I come from a different culture, but I already feared the “pregnancy police” when I had my children. That was 20 years ago, and it was nowhere near as bad as it is now.
I hear the cries of those mums who for a variety of reasons are not breastfeeding. Those who realise that their mental health has to come first, yet have had their disarray fall on deaf professional ears. One of them recently commented that her GP, also a lactation consultant, made her feel terribly guilty about bottle feeding, another tells me she suffered so much criticism, she stopped all social media for a while and found a new, more understanding MCHN*. Breastfeeding is encouraged and recommended of course, but it should not deprive formula-feeding mums of their own badge of honour.
Everyone is having a say on what’s in mum’s shopping trolley these days, or what’s in their kid’s lunch box. Mums’ choices are likely to be criticised or incensed by peers and school staff. There seems to be those who do the worst of jobs and buy convenience food and those on the other hand who produce perfectly attractive lunch boxes, with some pretty neat sandwiches cut in funky shapes, next to rainbow coloured fruit and veggie sticks. There are tens of thousands of “Instagramers” who offer pics of their child’s eating from baby-led weaning to artistic plating. Feeding has become a performance, that’s forgetting the basics of pleasure of eating, conviviality, hunger and fullness.
Health Recommendations, healthy eating and clean-eating
I am yet to meet a mum who does not want their child to eat healthy. You have to get those veggies in, mums tell me, yet some kids end up on chicken nuggets and white bread. Other children will happily drink their smoothies, swallow their quinoa and kale and have it drummed in their ears that they must eat healthy foods and that sugar is evil. For mums it is extremely hard to navigate these water, but messages based on nutrition first add pressure and lead to giving up, or in some cases, go extreme. Clean eating and its promise of a better life becomes clean feeding. Feeding becomes a performance that’s forgetting the basics of pleasure of eating, conviviality, hunger and fullness.
“Can I come in?” I said to the patient in the hospital ward, years ago, “I am the dietitian. “I don’t want you to tell me what I should eat” he replied, whilst I was standing at the door. There in 30 seconds I had learned what I needed to know for the rest of my career: you don’t tell people what to eat, or what to believe. I was yet to understand how tough motherhood is though, how feeding children can be so emotionally draining for years. Everyday that I talk to mums, this is what I remind myself of. I put compassion for them at the forefront of my work. Mum what’s right for you is what will work out for your kids. Be reassured that children will grow and develop regardless of wether they were breastfed or formula fed. Be reassured that they will be healthy if you have a good meal structure, if you offer a great variety of foods and if you put conviviality at the centre of your family table.
Are you feeling stressed about other people’s set ideas and judgements? Please, contact me. I can help you and your child