When I had my daughter, I assumed the breastfeeding vs. formula feeding conversation would be the end of the oddly intrusive and competitive nature of the food conversations that I would have and witness. But I was very wrong. The conversations about parenting and feeding journeys don’t go away when kids age out of breastmilk or formula; they simply change. The questions and buzz words abound: Baby led weaning or purees? If you’re feeding your baby purees, are you making your own? If you’re not making your own (cue the side eye from your influencer or friend of choice), what brands are acceptable? Then, snack foods, lunches, juice or no juice, red dye 40, gluten-free, sugar free, “healthy” and “not healthy.” 

It’s . . . a lot.

And it’s out there for everyone to see, assess, and talk about. And if you are a parent who struggles (or has struggled) with your own relationship with food, this hyperfocus on the way we feed our littles can be especially challenging. Undoubtedly, the expository and competitive nature of what, how, and when our kids eat is exacerbated by the ability to produce and consume content about literally anything at an alarmingly fast rate through mainstream and social media. 

The ease of access to such a large amount of polarizing information can be overwhelming, and  in my own experience, discouraging and then paralyzing, when it comes to parenting and feeding journeys for our littles. There are so many strong (and, I hate to say, often uninformed) opinions about what’s best when it comes to feeding our babies, toddlers, and kids. 

If you’re a parent of a little and you’re navigating the surprisingly judgmental and chaotic world of information about food and feeding, here are five truths to hang onto amidst all of the (very loud) noise that social media disguises as parenting advice.

Parenting and Feeding Journeys: 5 Truths To Calm the Noise Surrounding What and How You Feed Your Kids

1. You (and your child(ren)) are not failing if the feeding journey looks different than you originally envisioned

This is true at any stage, any age. When my daughter was born, I so badly wanted to breastfeed her. I was told it was the best thing for her, it was the “most natural,” it was essential for bonding. But, it just didn’t work out for us: I was incredibly anxious about if she was eating enough, I had a strong letdown that caused her to stop latching, she had severe acid reflux and allergies. As a result, I switched to exclusively pumping, and – if I’m honest – I was really sad about it. I felt like I had failed. For some reason, I was embarrassed that breastfeeding didn’t work, and I felt like I always had to explain and justify why I was pumping to feed her.

And even still, because the importance of breastmilk had been ingrained in me for months, I pumped for far longer than I should have given how my mental health was suffering. All of this to say, the beginning of my feeding journey with my daughter was dictated almost entirely by what other friends and family, social media accounts, the doctors and nurses post-birth, and lactation consultants had indicated would be best for my baby.

And this is one part of a child’s feeding journey, but it set the precedent: other people know better than I do when it comes to what and how to feed my child.

I struggled to trust my own intuition when it came to what would be best for her, for me, and for my family as a whole. If this is or has been you, please know that it is okay for the feeding journey – at any stage – to look different than you thought it would. Also be assured that you are the expert on your child’s needs and preferences. And while there are times where you may want feedback or advice, you never need to justify the decisions you are making when feeding your children. You are not failing if the feeding journey looks different from what you expected.

2. “Healthy” is not objectively defined by a few foods

While it is often presented as a rigidly defined term, “healthy” foods for my child may be different from “healthy” foods for yours. Healthy foods are not only foods that nourish the body, but they are also foods that your child will actually eat, that make your child feel safe, that will make your child feel full. 

    As children get older, there are a variety of factors that influence what foods are best for them individually: allergies and sensitivities, neurodivergence, sensory sensitivities and issues, food preferences, access to certain types of food, just to name a few. So maybe for one of these reasons or something else, your kid thrives when offered the same few foods on rotation for their meals or snacks. This, then, may be the most healthy option for you and your child.

    3. Those who “have it all figured out” probably don’t

    It is SO easy to post a picture of some perfectly portioned and sized foods with a caption that indicates how much your baby is *loving baby led weaning!* or to share a post about the “dangers of giving your kids _____ ingredient.” These kinds of posts posture the person posting as some kind of expert on baby led weaning, gluten, toxins, etc, when in fact, this is rarely the case. 

      When encountering these types of people and posts, it’s important to consider who and where the information is coming from before allowing this to make you feel any type of way about your own decisions about what or how you are feeding your child. These kinds of posts can be incredibly intimidating and misleading.

      It seemed like all these moms had figured out exactly how to introduce solids to their babies, and I was over here feeling anxious about introducing a (store bought, might I add) jar of sweet potatoes while wondering how in the world Susie Smith (also a “FTM”  – or “first time mom”)  in my moms of babies born in the month and year my daughter was born group on facebook had the time, energy, and knowledge to craft and serve her baby a beautiful plate that had 5 different colored (organic, dye-free, etc. etc.) foods on it. 

      What I was not accounting for is the fact that I don’t know this mom or her baby, that this picture was a two second snapshot out of her day, that this is ONE meal out of the thousands we will offer our kids, and that her pretty plate of food does not mean that she is an expert when it comes to transitioning babies to solid foods.

      The reality is, she doesn’t have it all figured out; none of us do.

      And while this may be what is best for her, her child, and her family, this picture does not necessarily indicate that she has a better handle on or bank of knowledge about feeding her baby than I did about feeding mine. Baby led weaning may work for some, making your own baby food may work for some, buying baby food work for others’ all of these can be equally viable choices. There is not one person, group, or method that has it all figured out, even if it appears that way.

      4. Every child’s feeding journey looks different, and this is good

      I am leery of social media accounts, medical professionals, and any other voices that speak a black and white narrative into the conversation about feeding our littles. There are countless variables that determine what is best when it comes to what to feed your baby, toddler, or kid. And to expand upon the previously stated point, what works for one baby or kid may not work for another. This does not mark one feeding journey as superior to the other.

      5. Your and your child’s feeding journey is not up for feedback from anyone else

      Whether it’s a conversation  about breastmilk or formula, baby led weaning or purees, organic vs. non-organic, dyes, or sugar, hear me when I say – no one else has the right to provide unsolicited comments or advice about what and how you feed your child. The comments, looks, and questions from friends, family members, and medical professionals can greatly impact kids’ relationships with food and their bodies.

        If someone asks a question, makes a comment or makes a comment about your or your child’s feeding journey or food choices, consider one of these responses that Dr. Colleen Reichmann suggests for unsolicited parenting advice:

        1. “Thanks for your concern! We’ve got this covered though!”
        2. “I hear you. That worked for your kids. Please hear me when I tell you it will not work for mine”
        3. “I’m not looking for feedback right now.”

        You may also refer them to this blog post about the impact comments on food choices can have on a kid’s developing body image. 🙂

        Parenting and Feeding Journeys: More Resources

        If you’re looking for more information about how to approach the complex experiences that accompany parenting and feeding journeys, here are a few resources:

        1. Dr. Reichmann (@drcolleenreichmann on Instagram) shares her expertise and insight on the feeding journey for parents and kids both from the perspective of an eating disorder psychologist AND from the perspective of a parent. If you aren’t already following her, start here! 
        1. @feedinglittles is another great account to check out if you’re looking for realistic and helpful feeding information, advice, humor, and comradery without the judgment, parent-shaming, and performative nature that some other accounts build their platforms around. 

        Remember, you’re the expert when it comes to your child

        There are so many stressors that we encounter on a daily (sometimes hourly . . .) basis as parents; the variance in the ways we feed our children should not be one of them. It can be challenging – in the face of much of the information out there – to release the belief that your success at any stage of parenting somehow correlates to how or what your children eat. This can be especially challenging if you have or have had your own struggles with food and are trying your best to help your child form a healthy relationship with food.

        I am in the thick of all of this with you, and because of that, I get it. The pressure can be intense, the judgments harsh, and the advice overwhelming. But remember, you are the expert on your child. You can trust yourself, your judgment, your child, and rest in knowing that you are doing an amazing job navigating this journey.

        By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

        All images via Unsplash

        How Can Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?

        If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of experiences and emotions that come with having and healing from an eating disorder, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help!  In fact, you can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.

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        Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. As a result of this, our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.

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