I had my 1st child back in March. In the first 4 months of his life I struggled with getting him to breastfeed. Because of this struggle I spent a lot of that time focused on his eating patterns. I watched when he ate, how much he ate, and the way he acted when he ate. During these observations I learned a lot about the way our relationship with food initially begins before it all goes wrong. Here are 4 lessons my newborn son taught me about my relationship with food:
1. They eat when they are hungry. Newborns are incapable of eating for any other reason. They listen to their bodies and they cry for you to feed them when they are hungry. In fact the cry itself is very distinct. When I asked our pediatrician, how we will know when he’s hungry versus something else, she said, “Oh don’t worry. There is no mistaking the hunger cry.” And she was right. A hungry baby cry is unique from all other cries.
2. They stop when they are full. When I would watch my newborn baby breastfeeding, he initially would suck with fervor and steady attention and then he would slow down and eventually either he’d fall asleep at the breast or he’d gently push it away and release his mouth from it. And if I try to get him to relatch he keeps his mouth closed or he turns his head or he’ll keep his mouth slack on the breast so that he can’t actually get any more milk. He can NOT be forced to overeat.
3. They focus when they are eating. They don’t multitask. In the early days, if someone came into the room and talked to me, my baby would stop nursing and turn to see what was going on. He wouldn’t do two things at once. If the distraction took too long he would start crying as a signal that he needed me to stop talking and get back to the task at hand. When it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat.
4. They don’t confuse other emotions with hunger. When my newborn baby wanted me to pick him up bc he was tired and needed help getting to sleep, overfeeding him was not an option. He wouldn’t accept food as a substitute for other things. He would continue to cry until he got what he needed – a nap, a burp, a diaper change, whatever it was.
Now that my son is 7 months old and much more aware of the world around him, I am already starting to see his relationship to food change. Sometimes he stays on the breast beyond his meal, sucking for comfort rather than hunger. He gets angry when I pull him off but he can usually be appeased by me walking him around, holding him tight, and cooing in his ear.
A month ago we started introducing him to solids. My husband bought him a high chair and he put it in the living room next to the coffee table in front of the television where he eats (and where I used to eat). Last night I was trying to feed him and he kept moving his head to watch the football game. He would occasionally open his mouth to let me put food in but there was no focus whatsoever on the meal. When I put the spoon down he took a full 10 minutes to realize I had stopped and then he whined and bounced up and down angrily indicating he was not done eating. So I picked up his high chair and I moved him into the tv-free dining room and I faced him so all he could focus on was me and his dinner and a pretty painting behind me. And it worked. He paid attention, he ate more deliberately, and both he and I were very clear about when he had had enough.
When we are born we are more naturally in tune with our bodies than we will ever be again. For the rest of our lives we have to work to keep healthy relationships with our bodies and with food. We have to remember that we were born with the natural instincts to eat the right foods, in the right amounts, under the right circumstances, and in fact it is our developing brains that are, in this case, actually a disservice. Our ability to think more, notice more, and analyze more becomes a hindrance to that initial relationship to food that came naturally to us at birth. If you want a more simple and healthy relationship with food, if you want to get back to eating only when your body needs it and only what your body truly wants, you need look no further than a newborn for guidance to remind you that you always knew the right way. It was inside of you all along, from day one.
How’s your relationship with food going? Leave a comment on the blog. I’d love to hear from you.