How many times have you heard it? “He’s so tiny!” Who knew those words could cause such crippling anxiety. If you’re the mama of a slow-to-gain baby like I am, you know what I’m talking about. Those same words would eventually drive me to exhaust every avenue of evaluation only to validate that, yes, my son is small and that is completely okay. He is perfect in all of his 14-pound glory, and it’s high time for me (and you) to ditch the mom guilt once and for all.
Our John was born at 38 weeks and five days alongside his twin sister, Elizabeth. It was a generally uneventful, planned cesarean. Both babies weighed over six pounds, with only two ounces separating them. John, a hearty six pounds, 11 ounces, required no time in the NICU (same with his sister). We were immediately off and running settling into our routine of nursing every two hours, around the clock. I was far from a first-time mom, and it wasn’t my first breastfeeding experience either, which meant feeding came pretty easily (relatively speaking).
Over the first eight weeks, John and Elizabeth both gained at a similar pace and followed a comparable growth curve. But, sometime between their two and four-month appointment John slowed in his weight gain and found himself teetering right around the third percentile. Elizabeth had pulled significantly ahead and was approaching the 50th percentile. Fortunately, we have an extremely supportive pediatrician who was comfortable observing how John progressed before making any quick decisions.
Over the subsequent months, he maintained his third percentile curve just fine, always gaining, albeit slow. But, despite our pediatrician’s unwavering support of John being, “just John,” my confidence was rapidly dwindling. Because John has a twin (who happened to be packing on the pounds) I found it difficult not to compare the two of them. And it wasn’t just me. Every person that crossed paths with John and Elizabeth was quick to point out their substantial size difference (at present there is nearly a four-pound delta).
I internalized every [well intentioned] comment especially because I was shouldering his dietary demands myself – being that he is exclusively breastfed. Was I not producing enough milk for two babies? Cue all the ‘increase supply’ efforts. Maybe he needs to eat more frequently again? Back to every three hours. Am I eating enough calories? Ate more. Drinking enough water? Drank more. Is it his latch? Brought in a lactation consultant. What about a tongue or lip tie? Saw an ENT specialist. How about a feeding issue? Developmental delay? Contacted First Steps.
Where has this left us? John is still camping out on his third percentile (ish) curve, and I’m still stressing about my milk supply (the many worries of milk supply probably warrants a separate blog post). At eight months old John (and his sister) has been able to maintain being exclusively breastfed. He does take milk via a bottle at least twice a day to be sure he is getting enough. In reality, this is probably more for my peace of mind than his benefit, but he doesn’t complain. Lots of very sweet people still reiterate to me regularly that John is ‘so tiny,’ but I am slowly rebuilding my rattled confidence. Johnny is a smiley, giggly, extremely ticklish, alert, happy, easy-going baby. He sleeps nearly 12 hours a night, generally only waking once. He is not missing milestones. So, I push on, all the while mantra-ing to myself, “starving babies don’t sleep 12 hours a night.” “Starving babies aren’t this content.” John is not starving. John is just John.
Navigating life with a smaller than ‘average’ baby has been yet another lesson I’ve garnered while learning to be the best mama I can be. I’ve spoken up when his size concerned me. I’ve taken action when I needed to validate (largely for myself) that there wasn’t some extenuating factor that needed to be addressed. I’ve stood my ground when many have suggested adding cereals or fortifiers to his milk (only after I was sure that not doing so wouldn’t affect his overall well-being). And, I’ve learned to smile and take the best-intentioned comments in stride. I’m confident that my husband and I know what is best for John. His size, especially in comparison to his sister, is not a reflection of anything I am, or am not doing. Above all, I’m learning to be more gentle with myself. I hope you can be too.