Feeding a Skinny Kid in a Fat World

My beautiful boy making a hasty escape during our family Christmas card portrait. The pacifier was a bribe to get him to sit still–clearly, Bug called our bluff and bolted before the photographer could take our pic. Photograph by krwphoto@aol.com.

Confession: I’m still upset that my pediatrician wants me to fatten up my kid. Mason is at the top of the charts for his height but it’s apparently a problem that he doesn’t even register for his weight. At Bug’s 15-month check-up the pediatrician told me to do “everything in my power” to help Mason gain weight. I thought I had gotten over the upset I felt at that check-up, but nope. It all resurfaced Monday night when I took Bug in for his vaccines and learned that if he hasn’t put on ample weight in 6 weeks then he’ll need to be tested for Celiac and the like. No, No, No!! There can’t be anything wrong with Bug. I freaked out (silently) and then had to hold a sobbing baby while he got three shots. I waited to cry until that night, after Mason went to bed.

Here’s why I’m freaking out:

1.  The pediatrician called it “weird” that Bug eats well (or as well as any one-year-old) and drinks more than the recommended amount of whole milk but is still so skinny. Weird! WTF?!

2. It bums me out to replace some of the fruit and veggies that I enjoy feeding Mason with less-nutritious starches (although I’m trying to combat this angst by baking healthier starches).

3.  The biggie: In a society where childhood obesity is a major problem, why am I getting so much sh-t for having a skinny, albeit healthy, kid?!

Of course my personal baggage plays a role here, too.

I’ve been concerned about Mason’s string bean status since his eight-month checkup. I’m afraid Mason will be teased in school if he stays so skinny. You see, as a kid, I was teased for being super tall and super skinny. Luckily the ribbing I got was more good-humored than cruel –ie., at one point, a classmate gave me the nickname Chicken Legs in gym class–but to be skinny as a girl is much different than to be skinny as a boy. What if someone is mean to Bug, or makes fun of him?! As it is, I feel so defensive when some mom exclaims, “He looks small for his age!” I try to smile and shrug it off but I always feel like it’s some pointed remark like,  “Why are you starving your kid?”  The worst was when one mom told me that her kid could “eat Mason” because her kid was so much bigger than he is even though they’re only 6 weeks apart. Um, how am I supposed to react to that?

The good news in all this is that Mason has gained 8 ounces in less than two weeks. “Keep on doing what you’ve been doing!” the nurse said. “He climbed up a bit on the charts, so that’s great!” What I’ve been doing is dousing all of his food in olive oil, or at least the food that would taste good with olive oil, per the doctor’s orders. Not such a fan of this technique but at least it appears to be working and at least olive oil is considered a healthy fat. I know, I know…It’s time for me to get a grip and follow doctor’s orders without whining about it.

Fortunately I have plenty of supportive friends and family, including my fellow blogger Richard Rende, our resident expert in child health and development studies. I shared my plight with Richard at one point and he volunteered to see if he could find any studies relating to our sitch. His conclusion, based on what I told him, is that he suspects Mason is genetically predisposed to being skinny since both Chris and I were skinny kids. He also noted that Mason’s doc is probably trying to see if Mason gains an appropriate amount of weight after eating a high-calorie diet for a set period of time. If Mason doesn’t gain enough weight then the doctor will have important information that could help him identify any underlying medical issues more easily. Thanks, Richard, for re-framing the situation in a way that makes it less scary for me.  (Seriously, if you haven’t read Richard’s blog, check it out; I learn something new every time I read it.)

Have any of you been told that your baby or toddler needs to gain weight? If so, what did you do (or are you doing) to meet your doctor’s goals?

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  1. by Berit Thorkelson

    On December 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Oh, Heather. Sorry. And I’m sure Richard is right. Why would a kid of skinny parents not also be skinny? And he’s gaining with your efforts. Yay! Always something to worry about, isn’t there? All your points are right on.

  2. by Daddy

    On December 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Never fear: Routine Saturday-morning munchkin-munching trips to Dunkin’ Donuts will do just the trick….

  3. by Gina

    On December 9, 2011 at 6:36 am

    I’m amazed to have read this post because my 16-month is going through something similar. At his last Dr’s visit, I was told he needed more protein to gain weight.. I’ve previously had a zen attitude as well, and always let him eat how much he wanted and given him fruits, organic meats, etc (mainly because this is what we eat!). I started giving him whole milk cottage cheese mixed with his favorite fruits & veggies and sometimes some ricotta cheese (whole milk) mixed in. Greek yogurt has been a great, and if I can’t find whole milk, I’ll mix in puree cottage cheese. It’s been tough, I know all too well. Hang in there! And, thank you for all the great food ideas!

  4. by Kelly

    On December 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

    We went through this with our daughter from birth to about her second birthday. She was consistently below the 5th percentile for weight, even though she was eating well. We were always encouraged to give her formula supplements as a baby and then a Pediasure at least once a day to help her gain weight.

    The doctor asked to check her weight once a month, so I understand what you’re going through! I watched everything she ate like a hawk and tried to will her weight to go up.

    Unfortunately we fell into the trap you’re worried about — her diet. The doctor specifically told us to give her things like ice cream and French fries, anything to get the weight up, so of course she got a taste for those things much earlier than I’d have liked. In the end it’s all worked, and her weight is now around the 10th percentile, and we finally got to stop the monthly weight checks. But she won’t touch vegetables and lives on nuggets and mac and cheese. Maybe that’s just part of being a toddler, though!

    The doctors never tested her for Celiac disease but also chalked it up to her being genetically predisposed to being skinny. I was one gangly kid, too!

    Hang in there, and stick to your guns about the diet if you can. Pediasure really helped our kiddo, in my opinion, along with yogurt and whole milk shakes. It was much easier to get her to drink calories.

  5. by Ann

    On December 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

    My son is a big boy to say the least, 27 pounds at 14 months, and I don’t give him olive oil and he hates starches. He eats tons of veggies, but is still a chunker. I think people just come in different sizes. Did you ever see the guy who eats a Big Mac at least once a day, he is super skinny!

  6. by Assiah

    On December 9, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    My daughter had been petite from the start. 5 lbs 15 oz at birth to almost 22 lbs at 2.5 yrs. Doctor continually advising to do anything and everything to put weight on her. Saw nutritionist 2x. Praise from nutritionist on great diet and only suggestion to add canned milk to whole milk and in recipes for extra calories. And add oil or butter to all veggies. We are allowing fried foods but her favs are still fruits and veggies… Pediatrician finally giving in a bit, since Hubby and I (and our moms, grandma’s) are all small people, she may just always be petite for her age. She exceeds all other developmental goals so we have decided not to worry about it anymore. Hang in there fellow patents of skinny kids! Nice to know we are not alone!

  7. by Jill Cordes

    On December 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Awww, what a trying time. I would be freaking out too. But I do like Richard’s advice. Seems really logical. And it does seem like Mason is simply genetically pre-disposed to be on the thinner side, since you and your hubby are. Makes total sense. I was hand wringing to my doctor in Brooklyn about Fia being only in the 10th percentile for weight, but 70th for height. She said, “last time I checked, long and lean was a GOOD THING. Don’t change anything.” I loved her for saying that.

    Keep us posted. This motherhood sh-t is tough!

  8. by Vanessa

    On December 11, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Same here with my son! He’s up in the 50 th percentile for height but barely makes the 5th for weight! Pediatrician has also let drop things like borderline malnourishement WTF??!! My son, 15 months, eats like a trucker all his veggies, meat fish, loves bananas, yogurt… And when done eating the ‘right’ foods I let him have organic cookies and meusli bars etc. Soooo… He’s still skinny, but so was his Dad well into adulthood (not anymore though lol) Conclusion: keep feeding him well healthy wholesome if he will have it, get him tested if neccessary, follow your gut Mom and try to chill a bit (keep reminding myself) last but not least: remember that the curve os based om the averages for the majority, that means in an increasongly obese society, that heavier becomes the norm!!!

  9. by Ruth

    On December 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I had my first peds dr telling me that my daughter wasn’t gaining enough weight. I had a few other problems with that doctor. So we switched doctors, the new peds basically told me that yeah, she’s skinny and a little tall, but she’s growing evenly (She’s literally stayed right on the line for both height and weight, 75th for height and the 20th for weight)… but she’s fine, and he has no problem with how she’s growing and how much weight she’s gaining

  10. by Sonya

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

    My baby girl is 16 months old and only weighs 19 pounds. She is 32 inches tall. I sympathize because my family & doctors have accused me of not feeding my child. I have been told I am more worried about her getting dirty so I won’t give her food. It’s bullshit! My baby is fine and she eats when & what she chooses at the time. Is it so wrong to not have a chubby baby? I get so sick of having to meet sone standard. Give Bug a vitamin and give a big F U to everyone else.

  11. by Eve

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

    We are going through a similar situation. Our ped told us that as long as she eats well, sleeps well, hits her milestones with in the generous range and is alert and happy– she is okay. Her head and length continue to grow and her milestones are all reached very early. She eats as we do– healthy and organic, but not afraid of cake and cookies either. Extremely active kid with a high metabolism. Count your lucky stars!

  12. by Debby

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:14 am

    When my daughter was 3 or 4 months, her Dr also got my case about her weight , we were exclusively breastfeeding and of course we got the typical you need to start supplimenting with formula, blah blah. I said no way, then she said I wasn’t feeding long enough, so I started trying to feed her longer, then she would just spit up mass quantities of breastmilk. So I said screw it and continued what I was doing. I think drs are so obsessed with fat babies, and we need to supplement babies with formula. Just follow your instincts. If your baby is on the small side but pooping and peeing and meeting all their milestones then just maybe you have a kid who’s gonna be on the small side.

  13. by Amanda

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I have one super skinny kid my almost 7 year old. Jes always been super tall amd skinny he’s built just like my brothers. And my 1 year old who is tall for his age but chunky he’s been a big boy since birth coming in at almost 9 lbs. My 1 year old is about 25-30 lbs now and my 7 year old is about 40-45 lbs. I feed them both the same. Lots of fruits and vegetables. The only difference in there diet is my 7 year old wont eat meat. Except chicken (boneless skinless chicken breast to be exact) my 1 year old will eat anything You give him. Its just a genetic thing I think all the boys on my side of the family are tall and skinny. All the boys on my husbands side of the family are tall and stocky lol. Keep your head up your skinny boy will be ok

  14. by Stephanie

    On December 14, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Eating fat is not an issue for infants and toddlers. Our doctor was clear that we should not be limiting fatty foods yet. As long as good foods (veggies and fruits) are included in the meal then it is fine to include fattier, even fried foods, at this stage of development. Our pediatrician was explicit – fish sticks and other fried foods are a go for now. We are both thin so our daughter is naturally thin and will continue to be so even with some french fries on the side.

  15. by Susan

    On January 17, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Your boy is so cute! Very tall! You must be so proud! My boy is 19 mo and at his 18 mo chck up is still under the 5th percentile…at almost 22 lbs and 30.5 inches. Our doc says feed him every time he wants to eat, plus regular meals, plus snacks, then add three more meals. We do this, but my boy rarely eats all of this food…we throw most of it away, honestly…after it ends up on the floor. We’re so pooped too! Glad to hear you met your weight goal at the next check up…what a relief you can relax now!

  16. by Unaxiaunlicle

    On January 25, 2012 at 10:34 am

    HJustto say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.

  17. by Rebecca

    On January 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    oh, mega big hugs to you. my son is little more than half the size of the baby boy one day older than him. the difference: he was exclusively formula fed and eat very little food. my one year son was exclusive breast feed and eats more than I do, and eats EVERYTHING, duck, lamb, steak, you name it. hang in there.

  18. by Cait

    On February 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

    My son is five and a half and has only gained about 3 pounds since his two year checkup. When his doctor recommended that he needed to gain some weight I started giving him pediasure at snacktime with his snack. I didn’t want to start feeding him junk food to gain weight and then he’s addicted to it later and has a problem with being overweight. Just a suggestion. I work in a nursing home and when our residents are losing weight, doctors prescribe ensures between meals to get their weight up so I figured it was the same kind of thinking.

  19. by Erin

    On March 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Oy, there is always something to worry about. My first son had a weak suck as a baby and got too skinny so I ended up having to supplement him with formula, and then he ballooned up and was in the 95th percentile ever since. The Dr. and nutritionist asked me what his diet was like as if I was stuffing him full of junk food, when in reality he eats quite healthily, and only drinks healthy liquids. (Mostly water, with only the recommended amounts of milk, and very little juice- not even every day. He has probably had two sips of soda and HATED it both times.) I am overweight despite my love for veggies and fruits, so they assumed that we were fast food junkies or something. Then I had my second son and he was always long and lanky, just like one of my sisters was as a child. I was worried I would have to supplement with formula but we managed not to, but he never got chunky. They repeatedly tested his blood and never found anything wrong. The same Dr. and nutritionist asked me about HIS diet, as if I was starving one and stuffing the other. One Dr. recommended I put butter on everything he ate to fatten him up and I didn’t tell her to her face, but I just couldn’t do it. Why would I set my child up to have problems later in life? I am fat for a reason. As a kid I loved buttery, saucy foods. I didn’t want the same for my kids. I wanted them to appreciate vegetables for their own flavors, not as butter boats like when I was little. Baby #1 is slimming down as he gets older, and baby #2 is gaining a bit as he gets older, and is now in the 95th percentile for height and 75th for weight. The docs are content with both boys’ weights right now. The moral of the story is do not compromise your dietary beliefs just to please a doctor unless your child is ill and NEEDS the extra pounds. My kids were offered the same foods and are built completely differently. Best of luck with this, and every other thing that comes up that we as parents will have doubts about.