My Breastfed Child Doesn’t Eat Enough Food

Messy Mixed race baby eating food in high chair (Blend Images via AP Images)
Messy baby eating food in high chair (Blend Images via AP Images)

The worry about a lack of solid food is a big one, with many parents feeling that perhaps they need to wean their child from the breast in order to coerce them to consume more.
Here are some things to consider before you make any drastic decisions:
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years. There are no if’s or but’s that come along with that recommendation. If your child is under 2 years old, then breastmilk can still be an important part of their diet.
According to Australian Government statistics, 63% of Australians are overweight or obese. From a cultural standpoint, it’s possible (maybe even likely) that your expectations of how much your child should eat are too high.
• Our stomach is supposed to be the size of our fist. If you feel your child hasn’t eaten very much, have them clench their hand and consider their meal in relation to the size of their fist. Suddenly a dozen grapes seems like a lot of food!
• Are you comparing how much your child eats with other children? The World Health Organisation recommends that children who aren’t breastfed receive 1-2 cups of milk and 1-2 meals per day MORE than their breastfed counterparts.

Where are your concerns coming from?

It’s normal for a child’s growth to slow down. In the first few months, our children gain a huge amount of weight very quickly. Both of my kids doubled their weight in the first three months of their lives. My son was born 3.330kg. If he continued to gain weight at the same rate as those first three months, he would have weighed 40kg by his third birthday. As your child continues growing, more of their energy will be spent developing their brain (you will see head circumference increase) and becoming active and mobile.
Which brings me to my next point. Is your child active? My two kids don’t eat a lot of food. But on this dreary, wet day that we’ve spent stuck inside at home, they’ve jumped on the beds and lounges, and laps up and down the hallway. They have been yelling, laughing and climbing on things. Kids who are malnourished don’t have the energy to run around and have fun.
Both of my kids have been quite wakeful, so I can relate to the temptation to blame a lack of solid food intake for this. However when my son was around 12 months old, I kept a diary of what he ate and how long he slept (including the frequency of his night wakings). It only took about a week to see that there was absolutely no relationship between how much he ate for dinner and how many hours he slept at night. In fact, the night he ate a really good meal of chicken and bacon pasta, he woke more frequently than usual.
There are many reasons why your child may be waking at night, and this is something that can be looked at more closely with an IBCLC or other professional. However the idea that our kids should eat themselves into a coma every night feels unhealthy.
It’s my personal opinion that a lot of the fears about breastfed kids and the volume of food they eat stems from an insecurity about breastfeeding, and whether we are “enough” for our kids. I believe this insecurity comes from the fact that breastfeeding past infancy is unusual in our culture. If you look at information besides what is the accepted norm in Australia, you may find yourself feeling much better about the value of your breastmilk for your toddler (see here, here and here).
Our obsession with our children and the amount of food they eat stems from our culture’s lack of appreciation for breastmilk teemed up the incidence and acceptance of obesity. Recognising this can help you look at the situation more objectively. This can collectively help us all to raise a healthier generation of Australians.

This information is general, and does not replace the advice of a medical professional.  If you have concerns about the health of your breastfed child I would encourage you to seek the support of an IBCLC.  You can also call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 MUM 2 MUM

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3 Comments

  1. I nursed my daughter for 2 years and I have no qualms about it whatsoever, God willing I plan to do the same with my ds..Its the best that any child can get…Very necessary blog !

  2. Great post. I think it’s something that isn’t talked about a lot with regards to breastfeeding Mums and older babies. My MIL (who was a breastfeeding counsellor with the ABA) always used to say to me “Food before one is just for fun” which was my standard response to anyone (my mother included) when people used to comment on how little my kids ate and how often they still breastfed at 12 months. I think people get very hung-up on what their kids eat and how much they eat as they become toddlers and preschoolers. It wasn’t until both girls had weaned (Punky at 14 months when I was pregnant with her sister and Zee at 18 months when I had to go away for a week and she never asked for it again after I got back) that they really started to develop much interest in food, and even then some days they seemed to live on air.

    But as you say, they were healthy, thriving, growing and had plenty of energy, and I liked knowing that when I was breastfeeding them they had that to turn to for comfort or nourishment, depending on their need. There is nothing more comforting to know that your child who is sick and refusing food is still getting everything they need through breastmilk, even at 16 months of age, it was one less thing to worry about when they were sick.

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