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by Jane R. Hirschmann

Here's a report from Susan, a new mother, who recently adopted a healthy 8 lb. 3 oz. baby boy.

"I went for my first pediatric visit when Ken was 2 1/2 weeks old. I had interviewed many neighborhood doctors and chose this particular pediatrician because he seemed kind and sincere. "First, the doctor put my son on the scale. He weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces. The doctor said that my son wasn't gaining enough weight and that I should consider feeding him more often. My heart sank; I can't tell you how devastated I felt. I must have paled because he recalculated and discovered that he had made an error; my son's growth was perfectly normal. But I couldn't take it in; I stopped listening when I heard him tell me I wasn't feeding him well enough."

From Susan's description, when the doctor questioned the baby's weight, it did not sound as if he was alarmed that the baby was failing to thrive. He probably thought he was making an innocuous suggestion. But for Susan, it felt as if her choice to demand feed her child was under attack.

Let's look at a baby's typical growth rate. On average, babies lose 5-10% of their birth weight at birth and only regain it within 10 to 14 days. On average means that some babies regain their birth weight before that time, and some after. Not only had Kenny regained his birth weight by the time of this initial visit, but he'd gained a bit more. In fact, on average, full term babies gain approximately 7 oz. a week in the first 3 months, 5 oz. a week during the next 4-6 months, 3 oz. a week over the next 7-9 months, and 2 1/2 oz. at 10-12 months. In other words, growth slows over time. Again, some babies gain more and some less. Each child has his or her own growth rhythm. Susan's intense reaction to the doctor's initial statement speaks to the vulnerability many new mothers feel.

Susan continued her story:

"All my worst fears surfaced. Am I adequate enough to have a child of my own? Do I have enough to give? Will I be able to anticipate his needs and respond? Will he survive and grow with my care? I never imagined that my first visit to the pediatrician's office would raise so many of my issues."

Oh, the power of the scale, the feeding relationship, and our complicated feelings about doctors! It is natural for mothers to have feelings of inadequacy, particularly as it relates to feeding. After all, for most women, eating and body acceptance are crucial issues. In addition, feeding a child is part and parcel of giving sustenance and love; it is sometimes difficult to separate the two. It would be nice if doctors were sensitive to these issues. Although their training may not give them knowledge in the area of feeding and nutrition, nevertheless we look to them as authorities.

Still alarmed by the visit, Susan went home determined to feed Kenny differently. "I was not going to take any chances. At our next visit, we were going to be prepared for that scale. I began by waking him out of a peaceful sleep if I thought it was time for another feeding. Of course, he was needing sleep, not food, and he would tell me so by falling back to sleep, spitting out the bottle or turning away. I also tried to give him more at each feeding, even though his signals were quite clear. I was making myself nuts and, finally, I contacted Jane. She reassured me and said that I needed to trust myself and my son, and that he would tell me all I needed to know about feeding him if I followed his cues."

"Now we're doing just fine! We've seen the pediatrician again; he says that whatever I've been doing is working quite well. I wish my doctor had said that to me during our first visit. Next time, I'll consider speaking up about my beliefs instead of assuming that because my doctor tells me something, it must be true."

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