I was either stupid enough or brave enough to visit Target on a Saturday a few weeks ago. We needed baby food. And they have the widest variety. (Read: they have throw pillows and cute earrings). My mind was tired by the time I got to the checkout. Mentally trying to add up the contents of my cart in my head is hard work, yo. The checkout cashier was chatty, in the friendly man-she-really-likes-her-job kinda way. I liked her. It was refreshing.
Chatty: “Wow, you have a lot of baby food!”
Me: “Yeah, I try and get enough for two weeks”
Chatty: “I’m sooo glad I don’t have to buy these jars anymore. My son went almost straight to animal crackers. He stopped eating baby food when he was 6 months old, thank goodness.”
Me: (please don’t ask me how old my kid is). “Oh, you know what? I forgot gum.”
Tucker is 19 months old. He still mostly eats pureed baby food. We’ve been buying pureed food for close to 10 months now. He, like so many preemies (particularly micros) struggles with feeding. I was hoping Chatty wouldn’t ask me his age, not because I’m ashamed of his struggle, but because I didn’t have the energy or time to explain. Explain that his feeding issues are a result of his extremely early arrival. To explain that I actually feel thankful that this is one of the few areas that Tucker is delayed because I know the list could be much more extensive. I didn’t have time to explain to Chatty the multitude of reasons that preemies struggle with feeding. To explain that no, it isn’t just that “he’s a picky eater”.
Feeding and preemies? Arch enemies. I’m not being dramatic. Ask any micro preemie parent-they’ll tell you that feeding troubles are among the absolute hardest. Period.
Digestion is one of the last functions to develop in the third trimester, under normal circumstances. But the micro preemie feeding fairy doesn’t care one bit about what “should” be happening inside that isolette. She’s cranky and fickle. She’ll make you think your little guy or girl is making strides with feeding and then? She’ll sock it to you. Infection, reflux, aspirating, scarring from being intubated, low facial muscle tone, allergies, paralyzed tissues, surgeries. It all impacts feeding development. Sometimes the issue manifests immediately, many a preemie goes home with a feeding tube. Sometimes it takes a while for the issue to show up-most often when you transition from one feeding stage to the next (ie bottle to puree, or puree to solids etc). But it is rare for a micro preemie to sail smoothly through the waters of feeding.
There are a myriad of troubles preemies can have related to eating and the severity varies widely. The reasons behind disconnects with feeding for preemies are many. Every single case is different. Some are sensory related (read about Jack). Some are related to an infection from the NICU (read about Luke). And some are just, well…whew (read about Owen).
For Tucker, we’re not sure. We’re just starting the feeding woes. On the spectrum of severity, Tucker lands in the mild category on this hurdle. He has always been a great eater and it’s one of the reasons I believe he escaped some pretty detrimental NICU blows. We have though, reached the point at which we cannot go it alone. Tucker cannot tolerate solid foods. We’ve had him assessed three different times. He doesn’t move food to the sides of his mouth to chew. His adorable dimpled cheeks have tight muscle tone. Even though he has a mouthful of teeth, he doesn’t use them to chew (only to bite my fingers when I’m brushing his teeth). He has an ultra sensitive gag reflex (as most preemies do) that may be related to texture/sensory issue, may not. Any textured food that he doesn’t recognize, he immediately throws up as soon as it hits the back of his mouth. He does not sip from a straw. He does not eat any solid foods that require chewing.
So. We are starting feeding therapy. An OT (occupational therapist) will come to the house weekly to work specifically on feeding. We’ll set goals and work towards them both during therapy sessions and independently at home.
I have no idea what to expect. Based on fellow preemie posts about feeding therapy, I am prepared for patience. It seems to be measured in small steps. Either way, we are (and will be) proud of our boy. This is part of his preemie story. We would love your prayers during this season. I am hopeful for what’s to come. I’m hopeful that one day soon, he can enjoy food like his momma. I’m hopeful for the day that I can scold him for eating half the bag of Doritos. I’m hopeful for the day he can eat the piece of birthday cake that’s in the freezer. The one we’ve been saving since his 1st birthday. He’ll get there.
And when he does, I’ll buy him 5 boxes of animal crackers with icing. And sprinkles. Take that, Chatty.
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” Genesis 9:3
Here’s some pics from our pre-isolation visit to the pumpkin patch.