Last week was the fourth week of Lilly’s wean, and we hit a plateau. Over the last eight days, Lillian gained only a total of 60 grams. Perhaps expecting gains of 30 grams a day to continue until she’s “caught up” was too much to hope for. I asked our Austrian experts about it, and they encouraged Dave and I to keep the situation in perspective. During the three and a half weeks since her last tube feed, Lillian has gained 350 grams and grown 1.5 centimeters in length. Those are excellent stats for any baby Lillian’s age, and pretty darn remarkable for one eating entirely by mouth for the first time in her life. During these plateau days, Lillian is taking in an average of a little over 700 mL of milk plus probably 5-25 grams of baby food per day. According to her Austrian doctor, that is enough for her to grow on (and more than twice what she needs to stay hydrated).
But the amount of milk she’s averaging now is also about 100-200 mL less than she was taking in per day when she was growing more rapidly. Today is her six month birthday, and quite frankly, according to how she expresses it to me, she is too busy to eat! She has stuff to look at, new sounds to make, body movements to discover, objects to grab, and toys to play with. We do best now feeding her on her play mat, while she’s holding a toy, or while we’re out in public with plenty of new things for her to watch. During bottle feeds, we need to allow for breaks for her to play or look around. She may or may not come back to eating. Often we have to wait until she’s so tired she’ll take the bottle in her crib while drifting off, in which case she may drift off before she’s consumed as much as we would like. She has also decided she’s ready to go back to sleeping through the night (as she did during her tube feeding days). As wonderful as it is to see her so happy and loving life so much, it’s also frustrating and worrisome to see her pushing the bottle away as she’s smacking her lips or sucking her hand in hunger.
The Austrian experts advocate for Lillian’s right to self-regulate her food intake. That seems like a sane approach. Not letting Lillian regulate is what felt so cruel about tube feeding. Clearly, forcing food on her at a time and volume of her doctors’ choosing made Lillian miserable and unhealthy. I know when I was pregnant, my body told me when I needed to eat, and it grew a nearly perfect baby even though I didn’t follow the weight gain pattern prescribed in those weekly “your pregnancy this week” emails. (Although the week to week gains didn’t correlate, I did incidentally gain exactly the recommended 35 pounds by term, using an eat-when-hungry approach).
But in the United States, the doctors all seem to be of the same school of thought–babies must stay on an exact growth curve, growing at the same rate as all other babies, or drastic measures must be taken. Culturally, we believe in dream feeds and chunky baby thighs. And we believe in it to the extreme–at one point Lillian’s gastroenterologist brought up CPS as a last resort if he can’t work with his patients to get their kids’ weight gain on track. We were bringing her in to her pediatrician for weight checks sometimes multiple times a week, trying to buy time with enough weight gain to “prove” we didn’t have to give her supplemental formula that wreaked havoc on her digestion. It often didn’t feel like we (Lillian’s parents, and certainly not Lillian herself) had a choice in the matter when it came to Lillian’s food intake, which is why we went along with the tube feeding protocols for as long as we did. So I’m worried about Lillian’s six month appointment next week, and what pressure might be put upon us if she’s not on the same growth curve she was on last month. Hopefully her doctor will be pleased with how well she’s otherwise doing, understand the circumstances, and cut us some slack. Lillian is skinny (no chunky baby thighs here), but she’s alert, energetic, healthy (no longer vomiting, and only one cold and no fevers in 6 months), and meeting her milestones within the range “normal.” But after what we’ve been through with medical professionals in the Seattle area, I can’t help but feel a sense of dread. I just hope Dave and I can protect Lillian from the pressure and let her continue being the happy, self-regulating baby she’s become.