Developmental delays may come hand in hand with feeding delays. Babies need strong gross motor skills to support the fine motor skills required for swallowing and chewing.
Our daughter was born 8lbs and 9oz, but she quickly dropped weight after struggling to latch and breastfeed for the first couple of weeks. We got close to having to re-admit her to the hospital. I was determined to breastfeed and not use formula.
We constantly struggled to get her weight up, even with pureed foods at six months and after introducing solids. Our kiddo was in the 7th percentile for weight at her 6 month check-up, and by 18 months, she was up to the 30th percentile. These are some tips and tricks that worked for us and may help get your kiddo back on track or kick them up a few percentiles on their growth curve.
As you probably know, lots of healthy fats and proper nutrition are imperative to baby’s development. Of course, talk to your pediatrician before trying any of these. Serious problems, like "failure to thrive" may be at play and your baby may need immediate intervention.
First Six Months: Breast/Bottle Stage
Buy a Baby Scale. Your pediatrician will tell you if your baby has lost more than 10% of birth weight or is falling off their growth curve. You may need to come in for more frequent weight measurements. You can buy a scale to use at home to make sure baby is gaining weight in between visits. I liked having a scale available to help with anxiety between doctor appointments and make quick changes when needed. I loved the one linked above -- it was accurate and can transition from infant to child.
Check for lip/tongue tie. Ask your pediatrician for a lip/tongue tie examination and a referral to a pediatric dentist (pediatricians often miss lip/tongue ties). Lip/tongue ties can affect latching (and speech later on). Our pediatrician never checked for lip/tongue tie, and we didn't find out until my daughter was 18 months old (thanks to a COVID-delayed first dentist appointment) that she had both a lip and tongue tie.
See a lactation consultant. See a lactation consultant at the hospital or follow-up with one from home. Don't wait on this. Breastfeeding doesn't need to be a nightmare. Let them help you. Find one here: https://uslca.org/resources/find-an-ibclc.
Join a local breastfeeding group. Get support from an expert and from other moms in the group. You may even make a new friend!
Eye dropper and shot glass tricks. In the early days, when your baby is having trouble latching to breast (breast feeding oddly does not come naturally, and it can take time for both baby and mama to learn) or to bottle, and they are struggling with weight gain, try giving them formula/breast milk with an eye dropper or tiny sips from a shot glass. This is how we kept my kiddo out of the hospital the first weeks after she was born and struggling to latch.
Introduce formula early on. Formula is not the enemy. We know breastmilk is liquid gold, but you don’t need to exlusively breastfeed to get all the benefits. A bottle of formula here and there isn’t going to erase the benefits of breastmilk. But it may ease your stress and help you kiddo gain that bit of extra weight he/she needs. Choose a high quality version like HIPP, HOLLE, or my personal favorite because of the super easy-to-use and mess-free container Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula. Get a subscription so you can take formula off your mental load.
Try smaller but more frequent feedings. Our kiddo could pound a 9oz bottle at 4 months. So much intake at once may decrease your baby’s ability to process the calories. Instead of 8oz every 3 hours, try smaller, more frequent feedings, like 4oz every 2 hours.
Six Months Plus: Puree Stage
Add purees to baby’s bottle. When your baby is cleared for pureed foods by your pediatrician (usually at 6 months) add pureed foods to baby’s bottles. This is especially helpful to keep baby full before bed so you both can get those extra Zzzs.
Add flax and chia. Just like you “boost” your smoothies at Jamba Juice, you can boost your baby’s bottles with all kinds of great nutrients by adding flax or ground chia.
Add a teaspoon of oil. For an extra fat boost, you can add a teaspoon of high quality organic oil (like olive, coconut avocado) once a day to baby’s bottles and/or purrees. Stay away from seed oils which can be inflammatory.
Get an eval by a feeding therapist. If you’re worried about your baby’s feeding, get an evaluation by a feeding therapist. Ask your pediatrician for options. Call your state's Early Intervention Program for help (services are free from ages 0-3): https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/state-text.html.
It’s important to monitor baby for allergic reactions for a couple of hours following the addition of any new foods, supplements, etc. Don’t give baby new foods right before bed time.
8 Months Plus: Solid Foods
Fats, fats, fats! Babies need fats for their brain to develop, but it’s important to give them healthy fats (think plant-based) over unhealthy fats (think animal-based). Focus on adding healthy fats like avocado, coconut milk, olive oil, and chia seeds. Cheese, yogurt, eggs and other animal fats also help boost fat intake, but these should be added only in moderation, if at all (because of constipation, digestion-related issues, and high levels of cholesterol, among other reasons). It’s important to set baby up for good eating habits early. Childhood obesity is a huge problem in the U.S. and puts children at risk for poor dault health.
Carbs are baby’s friends. Unlike us mamas, babies don’t need to restrict carbs to maintain their weight. So, bring on the bread and pastas! Choose multi-grain breads and pastas for extra nutrients and bean pastas for added protein. We found that our kiddo does much better with gluten-free options. There are even pastas made with beans, like Banza Pastas, for extra protein!
Pack in the protein. Speaking of protein, baby should be getting lots of healthly proteins. Again, plant-based proteins are baby’s friend. Tofu, beans, and quinoa and packed with protein and don’t have the saturated fats, like beef. If you do give baby meat, consider offering heart-healthier options like chicken.
Our feeding therapist suggested always balancing meals (even snacks) by offering a carb, a vegetable/fruit, and a protein. This mix helps ensure baby gets a variety of healthy foods at each feeding.