My 2-year-old son, Derek, ate a cheeseburger today.
For my family, this is a huge milestone.
You see, about six months ago, Derek replaced cheeseburgers, roast and other red meats with books.
If given the option, Derek would rather have eaten the corner off a book than a cheeseburger.
At first, I didn’t think too much of his new-found love of eating books.
Every toddler chews books, right?
Yes, babies and toddlers may chew books, but after a while they typically toss them on the floor to find something new to entertain themselves with – a train, a car or a doll.
Not Derek. If I would have allowed him, he would have eaten an entire library.
But, about three months ago, I put all the books in a basket and I put them out of his reach. I only brought them out when it was “story time” in our house.
Yet, when there were no books, he started to look for other paper-based items, such as cardboard diaper boxes and cup coasters.
Nothing in our house that was paper-based was safe. Derek seemed to have an inkling where these items were kept, or hidden. He found them, chewed them and then digested them.
And of course, when we saw him grab a paper-based item, we took it away from him and told him, “NO, gross!” and he giggled at us.
To me, this was a new game he had created.
But in fact, it was his way of telling us he needed help.
On July 29, we took him and his twin sister, Katie, for their 2-year-old checkup.
The nurse asked me if there was anything the pediatrician should know.
I told her, “Well, Derek eats books.”
“Does he just eat books? He doesn’t eat paper or cardboard too, right?” –the nurse asked
“Um, no, he eats those too,” I told her.
“What about meat, does he eat red meat?” she asked me.
Then a little light-bulb went off in my head – DING!
“No, you know, he does not eat red meat. He used to eat meat, but then about six months ago, he just stopped. He doesn’t eat eggs anymore either or green peppers or beans!”
And then it hit me – my son has iron deficiency associated with pica (and I knew this because I watched an episode of “Private Practice” on the TV!) and instead of eating a hamburger that contains iron, he began looking for other ways to get the mineral into his body. (Note, paper does not contain iron, but children don’t know that because they are just looking for something to replace the iron that is lacking in their body, and for Derek, he hit the books.)
When left untreated, pica can go on for years. Some children eat paint, chalk, dirt or even feces. When a child does not get enough iron into their system, it poses learning and behavioral problems down the road.
And for some parents, if they see their children eating weird items, they may be ashamed to say something and therefore, never report it to the doctor.
We had Derek’s iron level tested immediately. A normal child who has iron in their system can have a reading anywhere between 18 and 300. Derek’s came back at a 6.4 – dangerously low. Derek is now on iron supplement drops twice a day until his iron level hits a safe range.
His pediatrician was shocked that he had so little iron in his boy, but she was also thankful that I pay attention to my child.
You see, she may have all sorts of medical initials after her name. She went to college, graduate school and medical school, but I am Melissa Linebrink, MOM, who pays attention to her children and isn’t afraid to say something. A mother’s instinct is very real and rarely wrong when it comes to her children, and no amount of schooling can teach that.