Portion Control is not a term I would have ever considered as part of babies and their first foods. Being “that mom” who reads every book on a subject before making decisions about anything regarding my child, I made sure to do my research about food and my son early on. I read books on breast feeding and first foods, best food for the natural baby, and asked list after list of questions at our doctors visits. I called and emailed family, relying strongly on the advice of years of experience from my own mother as well as my mother-in-law who was previously a lactation consultant and parenting counselor at the health department.
We started out at 4 months with tastes of foods, usually just enough to thinly coat the tip of a pinky finger then dabbed on his tongue. He was excited and curious about anything we were eating and would eagerly try whatever we would give him. At 6 months he had his first bites of food that wasn’t breast milk. We stuck with a traditional course of firsts - lightly cooked egg yolk, smashed sweet potatoes, and banana. The first two my son ate with enthusiasm, the last not so much. Later we pretty much tried small bites of whatever was on our plates mashed or I chewed it for him.
My son’s doctor was surprised and happy to hear that some of his favorite foods at 7 months included cooked greens with a little vinegar, pork, asparagus, and beets. Over the next couple of months, he ate whatever we gave him but preferred vegetables and meat over fruits or anything sweet such as the baby cereals or puddings. I thought I was going to have it easier than any mother I had ever spoken to about my child and food. I thought wrong.
Just before my son turned 9 months, we began to have some issues. My son loved food a little too much. We were giving him either what we ate if it was soft enough for him to chew with his gums and first few teeth or we gave him some baby food made by a favorite natural brand. Before, when he was finished, he’d simply not take another bite and interest himself in a nearby toy. Now, he wasn’t doing that. Instead he ate and ate and ate.
Not paying any attention, I fed him as much as he wanted until, suddenly, his bowl was empty and he was still looking around and opening his mouth, signalling for more food. I gave him a little more from my own plate, thinking I must not have put as much in his bowl as I had thought. A short while later, as we head out in the car, my son threw up and strangled on his food. We pulled over quickly and got him up from his car seat so we could get the food out of his throat and he could breath. He was covered in dinner and my husband and I were noticeably shaken.
The next morning, my son was at it again, finishing breakfast and opening wide for more. I looked again at the portions I was giving him and knew they were at or just a little over normal recommendation. I then understood that my son was either not understanding when he was full or not caring so long as the food was to his liking (and all food was to his liking).
The Portion Control Began.
I dole out his food, keeping an eye on each jar, each spoonful. I become the queen of distraction at the end of the meal and bring out a toy or, if I know that my portion was a little smaller than normal or just right, I give him a few puffs in a bowl in the floor when I sit him down to play. I indulge in puffs or teething biscuit snacks between meals and nurse on demand. Yet, I still feel the pangs of guilt after the bowl is empty and my son is making every signal he can for more.
My guilt is stronger when we’re with others who see him signal for another bite and, thinking they are being helpful, friends and family suggest I give him more or nurse him when his food is gone because, obviously, he is still hungry. I take a deep breath, remind myself of his throwing up food if I give in and overfeed him, and politely say no, he has had enough. The looks on some faces and some comments made after make me feel like the worst mother in the world.
The Mom-Guilt is Real.
I wonder sometimes if they are right; perhaps I am being too strict about my son’s food. It’s not as if my 10 month old is on a diet. In fact, his crawling has caused him to lose weight on his belly! He is back in smaller pants because the bigger ones that fit over his previous baby belly are falling off. I wonder if his losing weight is bad and a result of me not feeding him enough. I give in at a meal and feed him more and am reprimanding myself later as I clean the vomited food off a favored teething toy.
I looked to friends of mine who have or have had small children and ask how their first foods experiences went. Most have issues with feeding their kids at all. Their babies were picky or weren’t interested in baby foods until later on. None gave any signs of over-eaters and no advice when I asked about it specifically. I felt like I had a non-issue until I found some other moms online who also felt this way. This is the blessing of internet-age motherhood.
Support is so important no matter what baby-issues a new mother is having. Encouragement not only in that what I am doing is the right thing but also to give myself care and understanding that I am not a bad mom even when my child is playing the role of Oliver Twist so well his grandmother may soon be soliciting a celebrity endorsement for a charity to feed him. My son is well fed, healthy, and happy even if his does have the appetite of rhino.