Kylie Orr

Kylie Orr

I got me a skinny one. In fact, I got three skinny ones. They were solid newborns - 8lbs through to a hefty 9lb6oz - but then they stretched without porking up. Weight gain was constant but never enough for the Maternal and Child Health Nurse (MCHN).

Random dots on growth charts were like tumours on the conscience. What kind of mother was I, starving my children like that? Must have been the substandard quality of the breastmilk coming out of those A cups? Had I considered topping them up with formula? Starting solids earlier?

I diligently attended those weekly, then monthly appointments only to be harassed by the nurse about how my baby wasn’t fat enough. 

The guilt and obsession were so readily absorbed when I was a new mum. I diligently attended those weekly, then monthly appointments only to be harassed by the nurse about how my baby wasn’t fat enough. I asked her if those charts accounted for genetics but she dismissed that idea like a feather in the wind. I dissolved into tears, many a time, concerned that my child was starving. But how do you force-feed a boob? What was all the literature about demand feeding and “they will feed as much as they need”?

My husband was so infuriated by the state I was left in after each visit, he decided to accompany me to the next appointment. He thought perhaps if the woman could see we were both on the slender side, the penny would finally drop that it made logical sense we had made a mini-me skinny baby. Nope. She used that session to voice her concern that something was wrong with our child.

As it turns out, he was and is perfectly fine. Now six, he is tall and skinny and healthy and happy. Oh the time I wasted worrying about it.

Our third child conveniently falls in the third percentile. I was stressed about it for about three minutes and then I huffed like a teenager and gave the MCHN a bit of “whatever” attitood. Been there. Done that. The kid eats like a horse (apart from that week of nasty gastro), can poo his own birthweight, has met every milestone ahead of the average and is healthy in every other way. He just aint fat.

He’s a little slim in the hair department too – donning a reverse Tin-Tin toupee-looking tuft at the back of his head. Thank God they don’t have hair growth charts or he’d be admitted to the Advanced Hair-Yeah Yeah-Clinic.

This complete obsession we have with weight gain in our babies is ridiculous. Of course, weighing babies (particularly those with health issues or ones born prematurely) is an effective measurement for, well, weight gain. We all know in the first year of a baby’s life, weight gain is imperative for brain development. Saying it is the only way to measure the health of a baby is relying on some pretty slim data. Vibrant children who are bright eyed and bushy tailed, feeding enthusiastically, pooping, peeing, meeting milestones and developing normally can all do so, even if they fall on the skinny side. Making mothers feel somehow inadequate or negligent for having these babies that don’t stack on the pounds is completely counter productive.

Strangely, once they reach toddlerhood, the obsession with weight gain backflips. A friend was told her daughter was bordering on obese because her weight fell in the higher end of the chart. In no uncertain terms, she was told to put her young, healthy growing child on a diet. For Pete’s Sake! (Who is Pete, by the way?). As long as she is not having chocolate covered peanuts for breakfast, condensed milk in her sippy cup and a bag of salt and vinegar chips for dinner, I just don’t see the issue. Shouldn’t we be teaching healthy eating habits and lay off the weight debate? Are body issues something we need to be instilling in toddlers? Eating by example – healthy food most of the time, treats sometimes and lots of fun outdoor activities is the well-sung song of the nutrition world.

Just don’t let the kids catch their mother hiding in the cupboard scoffing another line of Snack Chocolate like it is some illegal white powder. I wonder if the fact my second born can tell the difference between the crumpling of standard foil and chocolate foil is something I should be concerned about. Maybe I’ll ask the MCHN next time I’m there. Porky Pigs might fly.

I’m not suggesting childhood obesity rates are something we should put on the top shelf of the pantry with the diet shakes and the smoothie maker we bought to lose that post-baby weight. It is a serious health matter.

Thankfully, one I don’t think I’ll have to deal with given the genetic predisposition of lightweights in my household. My greatest challenge right now is finding some pants that actually stay up so my one year old doesn’t look like a try-hard homeboy with his nappy hanging out the top. That, and convincing the MCHN that he is not malnourished.

Have you been sucked into the weight debate with your children? Comment on Kylie Orr's blog here.