In her book First Bite, Bee Wilson wrote, “Seeing a child fed reassures you that you have done your duty as a parent, like a mother bird ferrying worms to the nest.”
Unfortunately, parents of children with feeding challenges miss that regular reassurance, which can leave them feeling frustrated and unsuccessful in parenting their child. Then, parents come into the feeding clinic and the dietitian asks, “What does your child eat?” Parents, particularly those new to our clinic, take a deep breath and sometimes even look away before answering. In that pause between question and response, it seems parents hear a different question: “How good of a parent are you?”
Similarly, the medical words we use can sometimes feel negative. Malnutrition is one of those words. Providers use medical terms to communicate quickly and specifically with one another. But, “malnutrition” isn’t specific to medicine and the word can bring up images of children who are being starved on purpose. We use the term very specifically as it medically defined by national organizations (more about that in our next post so stay tuned!!). This is a much more specific word than “failure to thrive,” because malnutrition is defined by specific growth parameters. Indeed, the word failure is not exactly helpful in understanding feeding problems. In most cases, by the time families encounter our team, they have been creative and persistent in the face of very big feeding challenges (“Ferrying worms to the nest”).
Please know that our questions are to gather information – not to judge you! The primary purpose for the dietitians on the team is to craft best strategies for each unique child to be well-fed and to thrive, often using formulas and alternative ways of feeding. Asking about what your child eats and classifying his/her nutrition status, helps the dietitians to formulate best ways to help your child. Our ultimate goal is that each of our parents will feel the reassurance of that mother bird ferrying worms to the nest.
Written by Lisa Richardson, one of our highly trained Pediatric Dietitians.