When we were adopting our two new daughters we were not really well prepared for what they could or could not eat. We knew one of the girls was severely malnourished, but we did not understand that it was entirely possible that nobody taught them how to eat or drink. Neither of our new daughters knew how to drink from a bottle or a cup and one daughter could not chew anything. I was left with trying to come up with some really creative ideas on how to help nourish their bodies while in country.
I don’t know how often it happens that a child does not know how to drink from anything, but it happened to us twice so it can’t be unheard of either. Our daughters are completely blind so that also played a role in their skill level. Each child will be different in their needs and abilities, but here are some things that worked for us.
• Medicine droppers are great ways of getting in fluid if your child has no ability to suck. You can slowly provide more tension on the dropper so that they begin to suck on it and this serves to teach them the skill to use on a bottle. Another similar idea is a straw. You simply hold your finger over one end to keep the liquid from spilling out and then release your finger once the straw is in their mouth. To teach them to suck, keep your finger covering the end of the straw and they will begin to suck on it.
• If they are a little older, cut a bottle nipple with scissors to make it easier when they do suck on it. The bottles require quite a bit of strength to get fluid out of them and we found it necessary to make them very easy because of the lack of strength in our daughter’s tongue and jaw.
• In our case our daughters also had little exposure to milk and neither one of them could stomach or handle it. We used apple juice because it was readily available in hotels. One of our daughters was extremely picky in what she would drink, but soup broth was our best bet with her and it was readily available in the grocery stores in country.
• Once home we discovered our miracle drink for her. As it turns out the girl loves water with a little essential oil of lime. Who knew? It was a jet lagged and frazzled mom who tried that trick one morning and it just happened to work. Lemon? No! Lime? Absolutely. Maybe it will work for you, who knows.
• Our Ellie also could not chew, anything at all. Obviously, that presented quite a few issues. On gotcha day we were given a can of baby rice cereal and a bowl with a spoon. Ellie was four and a half and I just sort of stared at it and thought they surely were kidding. No, they weren’t and it took me a few meals to realize it needed to be nearly water consistency to work for her. They also weren’t kidding when they said it took an hour to feed her a bowl of food. Sweet Mercy, that was an exercise of patience!
• Evie was fairly malnourished herself, although not to the extent of her sister, and I was really concerned that she was losing weight. I scoured the grocery stores for anything that was fat and could be added to her rice cereal. Butter was my best friend. It is hard to find, but in Guangzhou at Aeon you can find some in the refrigerated section. I was also not above taking a few from the breakfast table each morning, survival and all, you understand. Eventually she was able to take congee and I also took a sealed Rubbermaid bowl to breakfast each day and grabbed some for the road.
• Once we were home we slowly worked both girls up to sippy cups.
• We were able to grind food for Ellie in a food processor once we came home and we slowly graduated her to chunkier foods and then soft foods like noodles.
We have been home nearly six months now and they have progressed so well! Ellie still prefers the bottle as a sippy requires more strength and wears her out quickly, but we are still working on that transition. She has almost a normal diet at this point. The only foods we still stay away from are very crunchy foods such as carrots. She just doesn’t have that strength in her jaw yet. Evie eats anything and drinks from cups with straws now. She still refuses anything but apple juice and Ellie still clings to her lime water like candy!
One universal rule of thumb is to take six months and feed what comforts them. Who knows, maybe you will end up loving chicken feet! Then again, maybe not. Don’t assume anything and go with the flow of their preferences. Our son rejected all Asian food for close to six months and we just left it in the cupboard for whenever he was ready. Our daughters on the other hand preferred congee and rice and seaweed for months on end. You’ll figure this out and your family will be better for broadening their eating habits!
At the end of the day the most important thing is attachment and bonding. Nutrition can come in its own time. You need to do what works best for your own family and creates the least amount of stress for everyone. Those first few months home tend to leave us with enough stress from other things.
You’ll get through this, I promise, one day at a time, one meal at a time.