As mums, we’ll all recognise that red book with those charts. One of the first things people ask after you’ve given birth is how much the baby weighed. Right from the off, even if only subconsciously, we’re forming a judgement on someone else’s weight.
Even when I was pregnant, and Baby Lighty was just a bump, the midwives would say each week that my bump was measuring on the small side, and immediately after he was born, there were comments from the midwives and relatives alike that he was “very little”. My having low Papp A during pregnancy would also mean that he was likely to have a low birth weight, I was told.
He was 6lbs 8.5oz, so not tiny, and as he was 4 days overdue, this was clearly the size that he was meant to be. No one really took into account that he was absolutely perfect; small he may have been, but he was absolutely, beautifully, perfectly formed.
So from the very beginning he was deemed as “little”. This really didn’t help when I then struggled to breastfeed for a month, or as I find myself joking now, “when I starved him for a month”. At my 28 day midwife check, I was told to switch to formula, as Baby Lighty had lost too much weight, and as it was the hottest summer the UK had seen for years, there were also fears that he was dehydrating.
Having not enjoyed breastfeeding (that’s a long post for another day!), a small part of me was relieved, but the bigger part of Mrs Lighty felt oh so guilty. I hadn’t grown him well in the womb, now I hadn’t fed him properly, and not only that but I was switching away from something which was supposed to be the best form of nourishment a mother could provide.
The switch to formula wasn’t an easy one, either. The poor little mite decided he was going to suffer from reflux, so even once he was getting a decent quantity of food, he wasn’t keeping it down. At six weeks we changed to the reflux milk, and thank goodness, that seemed to do the trick.
But that doesn’t mean that Mrs Lighty has stopped worrying about his weight. At our six week check, I was, I feel now, worried unnecessarily by the doctor. He quite clearly stated that Baby Lighty was “severely underweight”, told me to have him weighed at least once a week and packed a very anxious new mother on her way. Since then, I’ve compared him obsessively to other babies, I feel like I force feed him every milk feed for fear that he won’t put on weight, and you will recall my feelings towards weaning from my earlier post!
But why are we so obsessed with weight? All mothers will be familiar with percentiles. Before having a baby, I didn’t really get what my friends were talking about. 50th percentile?! What on earth did that mean?! Now I’m all over it!
I therefore think it’s important to remember that the charts track an average for all babies. We are all supposed to be different sizes; the world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same. So why is it that, had Baby Lighty sat on the 98th percentile rather than the 9th, I’m sure that Mrs Lighty would’ve been told that Baby Lighty was too heavy? And why, when I had him weighed for the first time since starting weaning to find that he’d jumped up a percentile, did I feel so proud, messaging family, my NCT group and my Facebook baby group to say that for once I felt like it was a rare moment of doing slightly alright as a mummy?!
Of course, a massive part of it is because you’re so pleased that you’ve helped your baby to thrive. Looking back, Baby Lighty does look like he’s on the undernourished side in the 4 week photo taken just as I finished breastfeeding, so formula feeding was absolutely the right decision for us.
However, a big part of me does think that it’s also because stereotypes dictate the likes of boys needing to be “big and strong”, whereas girls can get away with being “petite and delicate”.
For now at least, having gained some confidence from the last baby weigh in, I’ve decided to try to trust my judgement and follow Baby Lighty’s lead. If he’s hungry, he’ll tell me. If he’s burning up calories from all the rolling around he’s been doing and from his attempts to crawl, so be it. Let’s let them be little. After all, all good things come in small packages.
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