Baby feeding problems refusing to eat
Why Your Baby Won't Eat
Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 01, 2020
It's just a fact of life: "Children come equipped to reject new foods," says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. To help your baby accept new foods, start with tiny portions. Also try to make new food look similar to a familiar favorite. If they like pureed carrots, try pureed sweet potato.
Cereal on the floor and peas in baby's hair? Congratulations, your little one is showing signs of independence. At about 9 months, many babies start wanting to control feeding time and where they put their food. While it may be hard to sit back and watch the mess grow, take heart, this is an important step for your baby's learning, growth, and self-reliance.
It's normal for babies to spit up a little, especially newborns. Babies' digestive systems are still developing. Babies can also get reflux, which is when food in the stomach backs up into the esophagus. To help manage reflux, try feeding your baby more slowly or feed them less at each sitting, loosening their diaper, and keeping them upright after they eat. Reflux almost always resolves without treatment by 12-14 months of age.
You offer your little one a bit of food and they turn their head, swat at the spoon, or clamp their mouth shut. Babies refuse to eat every now and then for lots of reasons: They're tired, sick, distracted, or just full. Don't force-feed your baby, but do talk to your child's doctor if you're worried.
While picky eating may linger for weeks, even months, it rarely lasts. Your baby can become a picky eater for lots of reasons, says Ward. When babies aren’t feeling their best -- like when teething -- familiar foods provide comfort. Or maybe your baby just isn't ready to try a new food. Make sure you don't give the baby junk food just because that's all they want. Offer healthy foods, and a hungry baby will eventually eat them.
Up to 8% of children have food allergies. Symptoms such as rash, diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach pain can show up suddenly. Though kids can be allergic to any food, milk, nuts, eggs, soy, wheat, and shellfish are the most problem foods. Food intolerances are more common than allergies and may cause gas, bloating, and belly pain. If you suspect a food allergy, work with your child's doctor to find safe foods.
As many as 2 out of 5 babies cope with colic -- crying for hours at a time. Colic can start when a baby is 3 weeks old and usually goes away by their 3rd month. While colic won't affect your baby’s appetite or ability to suck, a colicky baby may need time to calm down before they eat. And they may be inclined to spit up a little once they do. However, call their doctor about vomiting, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, or blood or mucus in their stool. These are not symptoms of colic.
Diarrhea can quickly lead to dangerous dehydration. Signs include dry mouth, decrease in urination or wet diapers, no tears with crying, weight loss, lethargy, or sunken eyes. All are worth a call to baby’s doctor.
Babies are rarely constipated. And it can be hard to tell if they are because how often babies have bowel movements can vary. For example, babies who only breastfeed may have a firm stool just once a day. Signs of constipation include hard stools that can be large and painful, and blood around the stool. Before trying home remedies, talk to your baby's doctor.
Is jarred baby food the cause of your baby's digestive issues? It could be if you feed them directly from the food jar and save the leftovers for another meal. Doing that can introduce bacteria from your baby's mouth into the food where it waits until the next time your baby eats it. When baby eats the leftover food it can lead to tummy trouble such as vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms.
Sometimes mom and dad may be the source of baby's feeding problem. "There's a temptation to give older infants the same foods you're eating," says Ward. But that's never a good idea if what you're eating is junk. Start giving baby sweet, salty, or fatty foods now and it'll be hard to keep break your child's unhealthy eating habits when they are a toddler.
A baby's undeveloped gastrointestinal system can't deal with some foods that an adult's body can. Honey, for example, may lead to infant botulism, which can be fatal. Always steer clear of chunky foods that pose choking hazards such as popcorn, hot dogs, raw fruits and veggies, raisins, and meat or cheese chunks.
Because so many things could be causing your baby's feeding problems, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor if you're worried. Always call your child's pediatrician right away if your baby is losing weight; if they gag or vomit when they have certain foods; if you suspect diarrhea, dehydration, or constipation; or if you think they have reflux. You shouldn't feel shy about talking with your child's doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
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Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, registered dietitian; author, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler.
Piette, L. Just Two More Bites: Helping Picky Eaters Say Yes to Food, Three Rivers Press, 2006.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam Books, 2009.
Children's Hospital Boston: "Newborn Gastrointestinal Problems."
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health: "Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants."
National Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition: “Pediatric Gastroesophageal Reflux Clinical Practice Guidelines.”
Mackonochie, A. The Practical Encyclopedia of Pregnancy, Babycare and Nutrition for Babies and Toddlers, Lorenz Books, 2006.
National Institutes of Health: "Food Allergy."
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Feeding Problems in Infants and Children."
KidsHealth.org: "Your Colicky Baby."
ADD American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org: "Diarrhea" and "Constipation"
Children's Hospital Boston: "Newborn Gastrointestinal Problems. "
American Dietetic Association: "Don't Feed Baby from the Jar," "Introducing Solid Foods."
Dr. Greene.com: "Honey and Infant Botulism."
The New York Times: "Labels Urged for Foods That Can Choke."
Children's Physician Network: "Picky Eaters."
5 Reasons Your Baby Refuses to Eat
When your baby refuses to eat it can be very stressful. One thing that will ease your stress is understanding why your baby isn’t eating.
Food refusal in infants and young children is a tough reality for parents to accept. I see 5 common reasons why babies taper off in their eating.
Here, you’ll learn why your baby is refusing to eat and how you can help.
- Constipation in babies
- Boredom with the same food options
- Feeding practices that are counter-productive
- Readiness to eat
Your baby ate yesterday. And the day before.
But, today, she’s not having food. What’s going on?
One of the most worrisome issues I see new parents face is when their baby refuses to eat.
From being sick to being extra sensitive to texture in food, there are several reason why your baby won’t eat.
When your baby is not eating, it can be a temporary thing, or it can develop into a concerning pattern.
Many babies have a good appetite in the first year or two of life.
They grow at a rapid pace. Their bodies lengthen and they gain weight.
Even their brains are getting bigger and learning is taking off at quite a clip.
All of this infant growth and development takes energy.
As a result, babies generally have a good appetite and a natural drive to eat.
Yet, sometimes babies just won’t eat as well as expected, or as well as they used to.
You’ll need to discern whether this is a temporary phase, or a pattern that’s developing.
Most babies who are in a temporary food refusal phase will show interest in eating and get back on track within a meal or two.
If your baby is not eating and it’s becoming a pattern, he may need more help.
If baby is losing or not gaining weight, appears dehydrated, or is regressing to the bottle and not regaining interest in eating food, then it’s time to see the doctor.Common Reasons Your Baby Won’t Eat
I’ve seen many babies who won’t eat in my career as a pediatric nutritionist.
Often, by the time I see them, they’re in a pattern of not eating enough and growth is faltering.
When we get to the root of the challenges, several things have come together to create the issue.
In other words, it’s not usually one thing, but a few things that have created the “perfect storm.”
Let’s take a look:
5 Reasons Your Baby Refuses to Eat. #babyfood #firstfoods #startingsolids #healthyeating Click To Tweet#1: Your Baby is Constipated
When babies transition from a liquid diet and start to eat solid foods, constipation can set in.
Liquids such as breast milk or infant formula are fairly easy to digest and absorb in the intestines.
But add in solid food and the gastrointestinal tract has to do more work.
This can slow things down.
And this can cause baby losing appetite.
I had a similar experience with one of my kids.
When my first born transitioned from breast milk to solids, we had a heck of a time with constipation.
In part, her digestive system was getting used to solids and a new baby feeding schedule.
When babies are constipated, it causes a feeling of fullness.
If the intestinal tract is full of stool, the stomach may fill up, and this may lead to a lost appetite and less eating.
You can help your baby if he’s constipated with home remedies such as diluted prune juice, but take care to use only those that are appropriate for an infant.
Talk with your pediatrician if you’re worried.
Also, as your baby grows, you’ll want to incorporate more fiber into her diet.#2: Your Baby is Not Eating Because He’s Bored
Recently, I met a child who, at the age of 22 months, was still eating baby food.
You could say by this point, he was hooked on smooth purees and was very disinterested in textured food other than crunchy crackers and cereals.
He was also delayed in his self-feeding skills.
Pureed foods are great and many babies love them.
Some babies love them too much, getting hooked on them.
Others don’t get challenged with more texture, receiving “safe” purees and familiar flavors.
After you introduce solids, and by 7 months, most babies should be moving on to more texture, flavor and food experiences. In other words, this is the typical age for an upgrade.
Babies and young toddlers are naturally curious. They want to explore and try new foods.
Holding them back when they are developmentally ready to move on can delay their overall developmental progress, including language skills, self-confidence and of course, nutrition.
One study showed that children who didn’t move on to more textured foods like chopped table food and finger foods by 9 months showed significant picky eating later on at 7 years of age.
If your baby is refusing purees and spoon-feeding, or stuck on baby food pouches, he may be bored with food.
Skip to chopped table foods or try a baby led weaning approach, instead.
Boredom may be a sign your baby needs more texture, flavors, and more autonomy (Hello, finger foods!) with self-feeding.#3: Your Baby Won’t Eat Because She’s in Pain
Teething is a common culprit for a baby not eating. His mouth hurts.
But there are other reasons for pain that may be contributing to why your baby won’t eat.
An illness involving a sore throat or ear pain may cause short-term food refusal.
Reflux (a condition where baby’s stomach acids creep up into the esophagus) can cause pain and impede interest in eating.
If this is chronic, your baby may associate pain with eating and develop a pattern of disinterest.
Colic and other digestive problems including gas, cramping or other symptoms can be problematic.
Food allergies or intolerances such as esophageal esophagitis, (EoE), oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or a food allergy to one of the Big 8 (ie, milk, egg, wheat, etc) can cause pain, discomfort and reduce food intake.
An acute illness like a cold can turn any baby off from eating.
However, most babies will resume eating when the illness passes.
If you suspect a more involved, underlying medical condition is the root of your baby’s refusal to eat, see your doctor.#4: You’re Using Negative Feeding Practices
Feeding should always be a positive experience, for any child, at any age.
When it’s not positive, young children can make negative associations with eating.
For example, if your child is eating with a baby-led weaning approach and is gagging frequently, this could be negative for him.
The same goes for spoon-feeding your baby.
If you force bites of food when your baby is full and doesn’t want any more, you could trigger a negative association with coming to the highchair to eat.
While most babies will recover from minor incidents like gagging, some babies who are more sensitive to their environment, transitions and changes, or a have a sensitive temperament may imprint these negative experiences.
You can imagine, this can make a baby withdraw from food, or at least negatively influence her desire to eat.
To avoid this situation, brush up on your feeding style and feeding practices so they are positive, connected and responsive – this will help you create a positive feeding experience for your baby.
You can learn that and more in my book, The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids.Grab this on Amazon#5: Your Baby is a Late Bloomer
Babies are unique and have individual characteristics, but they all follow along a developmental scheme.
Tackling the different stages of development happens at different times and reflects what we call developmental readiness.
We have stages of readiness for solids, which is a guideline to help you know when your child is ready to take the next step.
For example, babies are generally ready to begin first foods around 6 months.
Some are ready earlier, some are ready later.
It’s important to watch for the signs. (Read more about those here.)
Some babies are slower to show signs of readiness for solids.
They are late bloomers, if you will. Kind of like my late readers!
No matter how much we practiced reading skills, they weren’t early readers. They learned on their own time table.
Some children are poorly coordinated in their ability to chew and manipulate food in the mouth. They need more practice.
Some find textures offensive and need more time and experience with them to warm up.
Other babies are more sensitive to the sensory characteristics of food. They may gag when they see, touch or taste food.
This may be why your baby refuses to eat. Don’t fret too much if your baby is a late bloomer.
Stay alert to signs of readiness and provide opportunities for more experiences with food.
One thing you can do is plop a spoonful of puree on the highchair or a spoonful of chopped food and just let your baby mess around with it.
If your baby is holding or touching food, show him how to bring his hand to his mouth.
Remember, keep it positive and let your baby lead. No forcing!
If your baby isn’t ready and you force it, this won’t be fun or pleasant and may lead to disinterest or a situation where your baby refuses to eat.
[Watch our YouTube video about Baby Feeding: Which Mistakes to Avoid]Get More Help if Your Baby is Not Eating
How long should you wait to do something when your baby refuses to eat? Should you wait it out?
At what point is waiting it out potentially causing more challenges down the road?
In most cases, your baby will sort things out on his own, provided you offer regular, balanced meals and snacks, have a positive feeding environment, and stay relaxed.Here are the Signs You Need to Visit the Doctor
It’s time to head to the doctor’s office if your baby:
- isn’t moving on to more textured food by 9 months
- still refuses to eat
- shows little interest in eating
- seems distressed with eating
- appears dehydrated
- is losing weight
In this case, it’s best to further investigate the root issues, such as a food intolerance or allergy, digestive problems, or sensory challenges.
Perhaps your baby needs a feeding evaluation, or you need a dietitian to evaluate your feeding approach including the feeding schedule, food offerings and feeding interactions.Help Your Baby Love Food!
Feeding your baby should be a positive, learning experience.
For more resources and support in this area, check out the following materials:
Try New Food Workbook is a very helpful resource for parents who may be entering into the picky eating phase.
It’s also a great way to learn how to prevent picky eating!
Listen to The Nourished Child podcast for free information about baby nutrition and feeding.
Tune in to these podcast episodes for more inspiration!
Simple Tips for Adding New Foods
Reasons Your Child Won’t Eat (& What You Can Do)
You may also want to read:
- 11 Stool Softener Foods for Kids
- My Favorite Children’s Books about Nutrition
- 25 Allergy Free Snacks for School
BABY FEEDING MISTAKES | AVOID These 4 Mistakes & Start Your BABY on a HEALTHY EATING PLAN
Watch this video on YouTube
This post was updated on January 17, 2021 to include more resources for
Refusal to eat | Nestlé Health Science
- Nestlé Health Science
- health care
- Refusal to eat
Food refusal is a feeding problem that usually occurs when the baby is six to nine months old. If the child does not eat due to excessive refusal to eat or lack of appetite, this can lead to growth problems.
Why is my child not eating?
As your baby develops, he will begin to establish a feeding routine with you. If you or your baby is not easily recognizing feeding signals, it can lead to confusion and refusal to eat.
An underlying medical condition may also be present, which can upset the child and lead to refusal to eat. A traumatic experience from eating a food that causes choking or vomiting can also lead a child to refuse to eat.
Could it be CMPA?
A child who does not eat or refuses to eat presents a typical symptom for infants with Cow's Milk Protein Allergy (CMP) .
Children with CMPA usually have more than one symptom, and these symptoms can be very different from each other.
If your child refuses to eat it could be CMPA.
You may have noticed other symptoms (besides food refusal) that may affect other parts of the child's body.
For a simple and easy way to check for typical symptoms associated with CMPA, you can use our Symptom Checker.
This will allow you to select all cow's milk symptoms your baby may have. You can then discuss this with your doctor.
In any case, if you have any doubts or concerns about your child's health, you should consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Other symptoms of cow's milk protein allergy
CRYING AND COLIC
REFLUX AND BUCK
Runny nose and sneezing
IMPORTANT NOTE: : It is possible to continue breastfeeding if the infant is allergic to cow's milk protein. To do this, the mother needs a special diet with the exclusion of all sources of cow's milk protein. Only if these measures do not bring the desired effect, the doctor recommends the use of a special therapeutic mixture intended for children from 0 to 1 year old. It is important to follow the correct methods of preparing the mixture: using boiled water, sterilized bottles and following the rules for diluting the mixture. Medicinal mixtures intended for diet therapy of CMPA should be used under the supervision of a physician.
Solving five breastfeeding problems after the first month
Expert advice on solving the top five breastfeeding problems that may arise after the first month.
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Cathy Garbin, child health nurse, midwife and lactation consultant:
Cathy, a mother of two, was a research fellow at the renowned Human Lactation Research Institute, founded by Peter Hartmann, for seven years, providing support to breastfeeding mothers in clinics and at home. Today, she still works as a family counselor, and also conducts seminars for attending physicians and speaks at international conferences.
You and your baby have already fully established the process of breastfeeding and know what and how to do. It seems that all difficulties are left behind. However, some more surprises await you. The following are suggestions for dealing with breastfeeding problems that may arise later.
Problem #1. I need to be away from my baby
Whether it's social events, travel or medical treatment, at some point you may need to be away from your baby for a while.
- Express milk so that someone else can feed the baby. Now that breastfeeding is established, you can express and store your breast milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Try different options to find the most convenient time for pumping in your daily routine. Some mothers manage to pump more breast milk in the morning when the baby wakes up after a long night's sleep. For others, it's best to express 60 minutes after feeding. Remember that everyone is different. Don't be discouraged if you don't get enough milk the first time: it's possible that you'll be able to express enough for one feeding in just two or three pumpings. As with feeding, it may take time for your body to adjust to pumping.
- Take your breast pump with you, if you plan to skip a feed. Even if you leave your baby with expressed milk, but will be absent for more than two hours, you will need to empty your breast. Pump at the same frequency as you would breastfeed your baby. This will support milk production and prevent discomfort. Express milk regularly throughout the day without waiting for your breasts to overflow. 1 Most electronic breast pumps are battery operated, so you don't have to find a power outlet nearby.
Problem #2. How to continue breastfeeding after returning to work?
You will likely have to leave your baby more often and for longer when you go to work, so it's especially important to find ways to continue breastfeeding and pumping that work for both of you. As mentioned above, you can build up a supply of breastmilk before you go to work and then pump regularly to support milk production, prevent discomfort, and make sure your baby has enough pumped milk the next day. Many companies now provide dedicated pumping rooms, and modern breast pumps work efficiently and reliably. If you have a regular work schedule or work part-time, you can still breastfeed your baby before and after work and at night.
- Express as often as you would feed your baby. This will help maintain milk production and prevent discomfort, as well as reduce the risk of clogged milk ducts, mastitis and breast swelling. 1
- Try double pumping. Double pumping not only takes half the time, but also produces an average of 18% more milk than consecutive pumping from each breast. Milk is more nutritious and has a higher fat content. 2
- Assemble and bring to work the set, which includes a breast pump, milk storage bags and, if desired, a bustier top for hands-free pumping. You will also need a cooler bag to carry your expressed milk.
- Know your rights. In many countries, the law allows women to express and safely store breast milk at work. Discuss these options with your employer before returning to work. This will get you both ready.
Problem #3. It seems to me that the baby suckles only for pleasure
Sometimes it may seem to you that the baby takes your breast in order to calm down, and not to eat. However, do not forget that breastfeeding is not only nutrition, it is also comfort for your baby. "Soothing suckling" (when the baby suckles but does not eat milk) helps the baby to calm down and relax. Remember that a sudden increase in the frequency or duration of feedings may indicate insufficient milk production. However, if the baby continues to gain weight and you use enough diapers a day, this is unlikely.
- Be patient. The baby needs your care - listen to his needs and support him. Usually, the period of soothing suckling does not last too long, but it allows the child to feel your love and protection - and this is the best thing you can give him.
Problem #4. I want to switch from mixed to exclusive breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is so good for you and your baby that it's worth trying to fight for it. However, if you have rarely fed lately, your milk production may have been reduced. If your baby has only been mixed-fed for a couple of weeks, you will most likely be able to restore enough milk. Contact a lactation consultant or medical specialist who will help you and give you the necessary advice. This is a very individual process that depends on many factors. In any case, do not despair, because every drop of your milk is important for the child.
- Increase milk production. Try to put the baby to the breast more often, because the more milk the baby consumes, the more milk is produced. You can also express milk additionally. As mentioned earlier, double pumping in particular helps increase milk production.
- Be in physical contact with your baby as much as possible. As in the first days after childbirth, close physical contact with the baby promotes the production of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn triggers milk production. It will also make both of you feel more calm and relaxed.
- Reduce the number of formula feedings gradually. Resist the urge to stop supplementing with formula right away. If you gave your baby formula after each breastfeed, start giving it every other time until milk production rises. Keep a close eye on the number of soiled diapers and weight gain during this transition period. It is likely that at first the child will ask for the breast more often, and this is absolutely normal.
- Speak with a lactation consultant or healthcare professional. He will be able to help you and strengthen your confidence that your baby gets everything he needs.
Problem #5. My child has lost interest in the breast
If your child, who always ate with appetite, suddenly began to refuse the breast for no apparent reason, this is a false refusal, the so-called "strike". You may assume that he is ready to switch to solid foods, or that he does not like your milk anymore, but this is most likely not the case. It's just that the child develops vision, and now he is more distracted by the world around him. Or maybe something frightened the child during feeding, or he reacts to a violation of the regimen, perhaps he has a stuffy nose or teething. What you take for lack of interest may actually mean that your baby has simply learned to breastfeed more effectively and therefore takes less time to suckle.
- Be patient. False rejection is usually temporary and goes away after a few days. To provide the baby with the necessary nutrition during this period, give him expressed milk.
- Find a quieter feeding area with as few distractions as possible. Baby is more likely to eat better if he can relax and focus on his chest.
- Check in which position you feed. The baby may refuse to breastfeed if he is uncomfortable or unable to move his head to breathe during feeding.
- Express milk to keep it flowing . You can try feeding your baby with expressed breast milk using the Medela Calma smart pacifier.
- Do not start formula or solid foods. Supplementing with formula can lead to reduced milk production and will only make matters worse. If your baby is regularly fed with expressed milk and is growing well, and the number of soiled diapers is normal, try not to worry. If the baby is less than six months old, you should not give him solid food: his digestive system is not yet strong and may not be ready for such a load.
- Do not force-feed. Try to relax and be in skin-to-skin contact with your baby as much as possible, hug him and often offer the breast so that he can take it on his own. The release of oxytocin that body contact triggers will also help you pump. 4
Related content: Breastfeeding: what to expect after the first month
1 Kent JC et al. Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. J Obstet , Gynecol , & Neonatal Nurs . 2012;41(1):114-121. - Kent J.S. et al., "Principles for Maintaining and Increasing Breast Milk Production". G Obstet Ginecol Neoneutal Nurs. 2012;41(1):114-121.
2 Prime DK et al. Simultaneous breast expression in breastfeeding women is more efficacious than sequential breast expression. Breast Med . 2012;7(6):442-447. - Prime D.K. et al., “During the breastfeeding period, pumping both breasts simultaneously is more productive than sequential pumping.” Brest Med (Breastfeeding Medicine).