Life After NICU

Relieving the Stress of Feeding and Poor Weight Gain

When James saw his pediatrician last week for a monthly weight check we discovered he lost 100 grams. Nothing big and not concerning to his doctor, but a little disappointing to us as we work so hard each day getting him to eat. His doctor told me not to worry about his weight gain (or lack of), not to stress about it, to not even think about it during the day. Well, that’s not likely, but it does make me think about how focused we’ve been on eating, and the stress we might be placing on James for weight gain.

Feeding and weight gain have always been a topic of conversation at our house, but even more so now that talks of a g-tube are in the air. We discuss each meal and snack and keep track of calories throughout the day. We cook foods in oil and add extra calories any way we can. One of the most frustrating aspects is that James can eat. He can take bites of food, he chews, he can eat foods with a variety of textures, he finger feeds, tries to use a spoon, and can drink from a straw. He does all this, yet he still has a hard time gaining weight.

We find ourselves walking that fine line of getting him to eat any way we can, and trying to avoid creating bad eating habits that we’ll just have to break later. Do we make sure he still eats at the table? Do we use distraction with an episode of Mickey Mouse or Curious George? Do we let him out of his chair when he signs “finished” or says “no,” even when he hasn’t eaten enough? There are constant discussions and questions, wondering if we’re doing the right thing.

James and Penny having a little snack. Distraction with a TV show has worked at times.

James and Penny having a little snack. Distraction with a TV show has worked at times.

Our initial goal was to avoid a g-tube at all costs. I was ready to feed him anyhow, anytime, anywhere as long as he would eat. Then we thought some more about it and talked with families who have gone through a similar experience. It took some time, but we came to two conclusions: a g-tube is not the end of the world, and, a g-tube is not failure. As a mom it’s been a very personal struggle with James’ poor weight gain. What kind of mom am I if I can’t get my child to eat? People are so quick with advice because certainly I don’t know what I’m doing if my child doesn’t eat. All children eat. What am I’m doing wrong? After some time to just let it be, I realized I’m not doing anything wrong, and neither is James. It just isn’t easy for him, and that’s ok. There is lots of help for feeding concerns, and one solution might be a tube. If James is malnourished it will affect so many aspects of his development. That alone is reason enough to stop resisting a tube. Add to that the huge burden lifted when there’s another option of getting calories into him if he doesn’t eat enough, and I’m sold.

The doctor has given us a couple more months to work on feeding and weight gain before we determine if a tube is necessary. I’m going to work hard at making sure feeding isn’t a source of stress during this time, for us or for James. I’m sure I’ll still keep track of calories, and we’ll still discuss how he’s eaten at the end of the day, but I’ll try to let go a little. Coming to terms with the possibility of needing a tube has been the biggest obstacle. Now that we’ve done that, feeding isn’t in control anymore. We can resume our regular routines, eat together as a family, and see where that leads us.

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