When do babies double their birth weight?
I’ve heard this question so often these days, yet it was not a topic that came up regularly when I was a new mother. When in doubt, blame the internet. Sure, we had plenty internet in 2003 but we didn’t have such ready means of comparing baby weights and collecting ever more factoids over which we could check our status and see how well we were or weren’t keeping up with the Joneses.
So, compared to the new mothers of today who give their babies age in weeks and continue giving the age to the tenth decimal place, I actually don’t know exactly when my daughter doubled her birth weight but I can say it was between the age of 7 and 8 months.
I happen to have some interesting data on her weight in infancy. At the age of six months, she weight 6 kilograms. At seven months, she weighed 7 kg and at 8 months, she weighed 8 kg. During our daily evening walks all the neighbours oohed and aahed, impressed by her double chin and folding tummy.
Guess what she weighed at nine months? 8 kg.
Ten months? 8 kg.
Eleven months? 8 kg!
Yes, this went on for several more months! Suddenly the oohs and aahs gave way to raised eyebrows. Earlier everyone complimented me on how big my baby was and how early she slept, apparently the two most valued baby behaviors. Of course there was plenty on which they questioned me – how much I carried her (because we love babywearing in our fabulous ring sling!), why I hadn’t yet introduced solids, why once I did, I didn’t make her eat more, but let her feed herself as much or as little as she wished … and their voices only grew more emphatic as my once plump infant grew into a lean toddler.
Through all these curves and plateaus in her growth, through all these comments, we did not use any medicine, tonic, supplement or so-called “nutri-powder” aimed to increase weight gain. We didn’t introduce packaged foods that also claim to increase food consumption. We trusted food and we trusted breastfeeding. And we trusted our daughter.
Walking and eventual talking so excited her and us that we were too busy exploring and conversing to care about anyone’s comments … most of the time. There were times however when the questions, opening with ‘Why is she so thin?” from friend, Auntie, Uncle and random stranger alike, became overwhelming.
Now those days seem so long ago. That little toddler is eleven years old and I can barely lift her anymore. But I felt I should step up and say that in spite of all those comments, my husband and I did not sway from our basic policy of ensuring that our daughter was free to decide how much she wanted to eat.
Except one time. One day, when she was nearly two years old, when she did not want to eat at all, against my better judgement I played “the airplane game,” treating each bit of food as an airplane and her mouth as the airport. Though she had not wanted to eat when we sat down to lunch, by the end of the game she had polished off an entire chapati. Never before had I used any coaxing or gaming to override her own judgement on whether she should eat or how much she should eat.
An hour later, she vomited. She went ebf* for the rest of the day and night and was better the next day. I don’t know what was wrong with her, but she had known that her stomach needed some TLC. She knew this because she had always been allowed to tune into her body and eat or not eat accordingly.
Never again did I use any coaxing or gaming to override her own judgement on whether she should eat or how much she should eat.
And whenever she was ill, she ramped up her breastfeeding. Sometimes she ramped it up even without becoming fully ill, and nipped many an illness in the bud through her own ability to tune into her body and adjust the balance of breast milk and solid food accordingly.
There isn’t a simple metric by which we can measure and report how well children are in tune with their bodies, but we can measure ourselves and refrain from interfering with this process of growth, as important if not more so than numbers on a scale.
My daughter’s was made possible because she breastfed for several years, not just months, because it is through breastfeeding that children learn to eat, in part because breastfeeding gives them the freedom not to eat when their bodies so direct. Our young become competent directors of their own eating.
And while I would like to think I would not have been unduly affected by it, I am glad that I was not subject to the constant comparisons of social media status updates among a narrow demographic, but rather living in the world around me, with babies of all ages, sizes and shapes, and mothers of varying levels of experience.
*ebf = exclusive breastfeeding. During early infancy, as the digestive system matures, and during times of illness or any time the stomach needs a rest, and the immune system needs a boost, children get optimal nourishment through exclusive breastfeeding. They continue getting fluids, immunity and nutrients, as well as rest, since they can nurse and sleep at the same time. The World Health Organization recommends that babies exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and continue breastfeeding along with gradual introduction of complementary foods for at least two years and for as long as mother and baby wish. The nourishing and immune-supporting qualities of breast milk are most valuable during the physical, emotional and intellectual growth spurts of childhood, and a godsend during times of illness.
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