Friday, November 21, 2008

Getting a Toddler to Drink Milk

Ian was a huge fan breastmilk. He drank a lot of it until my milk ran out a few months ago. He still nurses at least once a day even though he isn't getting anything. Ever since he started eating solid foods, he has been a very adventurous eater, but in drinking he only wanted breastmilk and water. He didn't even like juice until a few months ago. In order to get him to drink milk, I have employed the following strategies:

1. Trying different kinds of milk and calling them by their specific kind: soy milk and cow's milk.

2. Drinking milk myself in front of him and clinking glasses with him and saying,"Cheers".

3. Giving him small amounts of milk to drink with lunch and dinner and slowly increasing the amount. A small amount is easier to negotiate over. It doesn't seem overwhelming so it is easier to get him to choose to drink it in order to get something else.

4. I give him milk in a special glass that he recognizes is for drinking milk.

5. I don't ask him if he wants to drink milk or give him a choice when it comes to lunch and dinner, I simply present a small amount for him to drink. If a child doesn't have a choice or you aren't sure if they will give you the answer you are looking for, don't ask. The choice I give him is to drink his milk or go without dessert (usually 1 square of dark chocolate). If he decides not to drink his milk, I put it back in the fridge and he does not get his dessert. Usually, he will drink the milk. Again, if he doesn't, I don't get hysterical, I just eat my chocolate in front of him.

I don't worry about the amount he drinks or try to force him to drink the recommended amount. The reason is that it just doesn't work. If you force feed, you will have limited success at a very high price. He prefers to drink orange juice and water, so I give him calcium fortified orange juice and he eats a lot of cheese and yogurt.

The reason I am writing about this again is to show that slow and steady really does win the race in many parenting situations. Today, he came home from "school" (the childcare center where he goes occasionally for hourly care and where they serve milk for lunch) and he asked for cow's milk! I didn't make a big deal out of it, I just gave it to him. He drank it and requested milk over his Cheerios. He ate the Cherrios and drank the leftover milk and requested more milk! I'm not so bold to think that this will be an everyday occurrence, but it does show progress.

Food issues can be extremely frustrating to deal with and can't always be prevented, but there are a few things you can do:

1. Child-led introduction to solids. In the the US, the recommended age for introducing solids is 6 months due to the maturing of the intestines and the tongue control that is usually present at the this age. However, if your child does not like solids and cries or is uninterested, then don't force the issue. Ian didn't eat solids until he was almost 8 months old. He went from crying at one bite, to downing an entire jar of sweet potatoes out of the blue. I just kept trying every few weeks. I thought this might mean that he would be a picky eater, but I didn't stress about it and now he is one of the best eaters around.

2. Don't over react to an eating strike or phase. If a child isn't hungry or is not feeling well, they may not want to eat. It may be just a day, it may be longer, but if you don't react and don't force food, you will be better off. In most cases, they will get over in in a few days if you ignore it. There are cases of previously good eaters suddenly refusing to eat a lot of things or getting really picky. Seems that most people who experience this say it happens between age 2 and 4 from what I've read if it comes out of the blue. Dr. Sears has some good tips on what to do if you have a picky eater.

3. Don't compensate with junk food. In most cases the child will not starve or suffer extreme nutritional consequences and if he/she does, it indicates bigger problems that need medical intervention.

Good luck and stay strong!

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