Day Care Provider: Mother Is Being Restrictive In Feeding Infant

By October 12, 2012

I am a daycare provider at a military daycare overseas. I have been working with infants for over 10 years and have come across a situation that greatly concerns me. I have a baby boy in my care that is approx 4 1/2 months old. Mom is obese. There is a possibility that she has had weight-reduction surgery in the past. We are a “feed on demand” center, which this mother does not agree with. The child shows signs of being big (not fat) for his age…i.e. big hands and shoulders…shows the possibility of being tall (i had similar experience with my own child, who now at 15 is 6’2″). Lately the mother’s comments have been disturbing. One of my caregivers had mentioned to the mom that her son was going to “be a big boy” which mom commented “that she hoped not.” She had said that the baby had had his 4 month check up and that she was afraid that he was going to be 15 lbs. and sure enough he was 14+ lbs. She said this as if it was a horrible thing. The baby started in my room at 8 wks. old drinking 4 oz. every 3-4 hours. As the child grew, he showed signs of still being hungry after the 4 oz. or not holding off the entire 3 hours…but the mother made us hold the child off, which is really against our policy. At 4 months he is only up to 5.5 oz. of formula, still being held off to eat again till 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The child usually gets hungry by 2 hours and still cries for more after the 5 1/2 oz. I cannot let this child cry for food any longer. The mother has become quite nasty about the whole situation, leaving us caregivers frustrated and worried for this child. How common is it that women with eating disorders, bad food relationships or bad body image, in turn become obsessed with these same things in their infants? And how dangerous is it? What signs are there to look for? Any advice or literature that I can use in dealing with this mother? – concerned in Germany

Dear Concerned,

Parents can definitely pass on disordered eating practices to their children. I would agree with you that this mother is being restrictive in feeding her infant. In doing so, she is depriving her infant of nourishment, and not allowing him to learn to use his natural cues of hunger and satiety to regulate his intake. By limiting calories at such a young age, he may also end up with a slower metabolism. The direction she is taking—underfeeding her child—will have the opposite effect in the future. Children who are underfed are prone to becoming preoccupied with food, and end up overeating when given the opportunity. She is setting him up for eating and weight issues later in life.

This must be a very frustrating situation for you, and you have reason to be concerned. You are in an awkward position in trying to influence the mother. At the baby’s next check-up, however, his pediatrician should be able to detect any problems with growth and weight gain—and will hopefully intervene. Although the baby’s health and well being are not optimal at this point, I doubt that you will see signs of serious malnutrition in the meantime (lethargy, whole body swelling, sensitivity, and thin, reddening hair that falls out easily).

There is a book by Ellyn Satter that I would recommend, if this mom would be willing to read it called Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, which focuses on the infant and toddler years. We also have an article at this web site, but it does not address infant feeding: “10 Tips for Raising Balanced Eaters.” Perhaps you could gently approach the mom with these suggestions, since she is trying to ensure a healthy future for her child (but is misguided). If you emphasize her good intentions rather than the error of her ways, perhaps she will be more receptive. Since mom is overly-sensitive about the baby’s size (or potential size), you should be sure that all your fellow caregivers are aware, and choose your words carefully.

I don’t know the set-up of your daycare center, but if you have a supervisor, soliciting his or her support would be helpful when talking to the mother. Let us know how everything goes.