How Long to Breastfeed a Picky Eater?
My still-nursing 20-month-old toddler isn’t a great eater. He will only eat the same dozen or so foods, refuses to try anything new, and won’t eat any vegetables. It’s causing tension between me and my hubby. He strongly believes that if I stopped breastfeeding our son, then he would get hungry enough where he would eat better – bigger quantities and a better variety of food. I am not sure it is as simple as this.
I also believe extended BF has huge benefits for his socioemotional development, him getting extra immunity from me, for comforting him, and for filling in the gaps in his diet on days when he truly just doesn’t want to eat. But hubby really thinks that so long as my son knows his favorite food is there for him any time he wants (breastmilk!) that his eating won’t get better. Any ideas/experience/suggestions on how extended BF affects toddlers’ eating and how to navigate this conflict with a spouse?!
Why a Picky Eaters is Normal
Your questions and circumstances remind me of what I learned in similar circumstances with my toddlers. Namely what you’re feeling and what your toddler is doing are both very usual and normal. And you are right – it is not as simple as “Stop breastfeeding and the kid will eat”.
Backed by Science
First, it will help your husband to understand the concept of “mommy brain.” When you grow a baby, you also grow an area in your brain that prompts you to do the best for your baby and feel right about it. Naturally, you are feeling right about continuing to breastfeed your toddler, and science supports you. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. Your milk is alive (keyword, “alive”) with nutrients that build a healthier immune system and a healthier body and brain for your baby.
The head-to-toe benefits, especially for smartness and brain development, show that the longer you breastfeed the better for you and baby. Consult the new (2018) edition of my book, The Breastfeeding Book, for a list of science-proven health benefits of extended breastfeeding for mother and toddler – and share it with your husband.
Minimal Weight Gain
Next, if your toddler is gaining weight normally, pooping once or twice a day, and is happy and healthy, most likely he is getting enough to eat. It’s usual for toddlers to eat much less between one and two years because they don’t grow as fast as they did in the first year. The average toddler gains only five pounds between one and two years, yet they triple their birth weight in the first year.
While it is good for toddlers to learn to enjoy many different foods, mother’s milk is important as backup nutrition, ensuring they get the healthy fats, excellent protein, and energy supply – plus all those vitamins and minerals continue to be provided.
Another point to consider is your toddler has a toddler-size tummy, about the size of his fist. Next time you give him some food, if he eats only a small fistful, that’s what his tummy is telling him to do. Better to let him nibble, or graze, all day long. (See our website and our books about how to prepare a toddler nibble tray, especially for the picky eater.) Fill half the nibble tray with his favorite healthy foods (we call them “grow foods”) and the other half with new foods.
Toddlers love to dip, so he’s likely to dip his favorite foods and some less favorite foods like steamed broccoli florets into new dips such as yogurt, hummus, guacamole, or cheese. What also worked for our family is what we call “sneakies” – blending in (as in making a fruit smoothie with spinach added), or sneaking in small bits of the foods you want him to eat camouflaged with the foods he likes to eat.
Try Filling Foods
High-fat foods that are especially filling for toddler tummies are: salmon, avocado, eggs, and nut butters – all foods that pack a lot of nutrition in a small volume. Also, it’s very normal for picky-eating toddlers to go up and down for food preferences, loving avocado one week but won’t touch it the next.
Now, since tension with your husband over this concern has cropped up, I suggest the two of you have a romantic dinner or some “couch time” and discuss his concerns point by point, calmly. (I mention calmness because I know how emotional I would get!) Talk with him about the concept of “mommy brain,” asking him to trust your God-given maternal instinct. Bullet-point the list of the scientific facts supporting extended breastfeeding, which you can get from my book, The Breastfeeding Book, and from our website. The message he can get from you is, “Honey, I appreciate your concern as to what you think is best for our little guy. Yet, how we feed and care for him now is the best long-term investment we’ll ever make. I need you to trust my instinct that what we are doing is best and I really need your support.”
Make the point that the better you care for each other, the better you can care for your toddler. Also, tell hubby about how tension, or “vibes,” between parents can be picked up by your child. Share with him, “I want our son to feel that he has two happy parents who love him and each other”.
Written By: Martha Sears, RN
Some additional resources you may find helpful in going deeper into each one of your concerns are:
- The Healthy Brain Book: An All-Ages Guide to a Calmer, Happier, Sharper You, William Sears, M.D., Vincent M. Fortanasce, M.D., Hayden Sears, M.A., Benbella Books, 2020 (tips on the smartest and most nutrient-dense foods for all ages)
- The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood: Ten Ways to Get Your Family on the Right Nutritional Track, William Sears, M.D., Little Brown, 2006 (lots of tips on toddler feeding)
- See related subject: AskDrSears.com/picky-eater
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”