Why Won’t Baby Eat?

Baby feeding issues can range from a sudden spray of spit-up to a smear of carrots in the hair to a refusal to eat. Whether they are humorous or downright scary, there's a way to handle them.

First, relax. Although feeding hurdles are frustrating, if your baby is growing and developing normally, there's usually no reason to worry.

7 Common Baby Feeding Problems

Refusing Food

Babies refuse food for many reasons: They may be full, tired, distracted, or sick. Perhaps baby's feeding schedule just isn't your feeding schedule. Don't worry, a baby will always eat if he’s hungry, so if your little one is swatting at the spoon, turning away, or clamping his mouth shut, he’s telling you that he’s had enough for now. Just make sure your baby is being fed healthy foods and junk foods are not filling him up earlier.

Try to trust that your baby knows how much food he needs, and never force feed your child, which can turn feeding time into fighting time. That said, if a refusal to eat has you worried, always talk to your pediatrician.

Avoiding New Foods

Just about every child goes through a period of rejecting new foods. Fortunately, most children grow out of this phase, though it can sometimes take weeks, even months.

Help your baby accept new foods more easily by making sure the new food looks similar to a familiar favorite, for example pureed carrots and pureed sweet potato, or mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes. Then, starting with very small portions, gently offer the new food to your child three times during a meal. If she refuses, don't overreact; just move on to something you know she likes. Try offering the same food at another meal.

Fussy Baby, Picky Eater

It's the lament of many parents: My baby is a picky eater.

There are many reasons infants may be finicky about food. They may be teething, tired, not yet ready for solids, or just don't need as much food as you're feeding them. Familiar foods provide your baby comfort in stressful, busy times. Although picky eating may linger awhile, it rarely lasts.

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Gagging

Most babies are ready for solid foods between 4 and 6 months, but a few may find solids hard to handle in the beginning. The result? Baby may seem to gag during feedings.

If your baby is having a hard time swallowing solid foods, try putting less food on the spoon. If your baby is still gagging, he may not be ready for solids yet. Your child's health care provider can also check for other reasons for persistent gagging.

Making a Mess

Sometimes called "feeding the floor," there’s often a messy phase when baby seems to spend more time playing with or dropping food than eating it.

These classic signs of feeding independence often show up around baby's ninth month, when your little one is anxious to control feedings and interact with his food. Although there's frequently a mess involved in letting your baby wield the spoon, this step is important in helping your baby learn, grow, and become more self-reliant.

Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

Food allergies, which activate the immune system, occur in up to 8% of children and can appear suddenly, with symptoms ranging from diarrhea, vomiting, rash, or stomach pain to breathing problems and facial/body swelling. The most common food allergies among children are to milk, soy, eggs, wheat, nuts, and shellfish, although kids (and adults) can be allergic to any foods.

Food intolerances are more common than food allergies. Although symptoms may be similar, food intolerances involve a baby’s digestive system, not immune system. Common food intolerances include problems with lactose, corn, or gluten. Symptoms of a food intolerance include gas, bloating, diarrhea, and belly pain.

Spitting Up, Reflux, or Vomiting

Spitting up seems to be a nearly universal occupation of babies. The good news is that spitting up tends to fade as babies reach their first birthday. You can reduce the chances of your baby spitting up by burping him regularly, avoiding overfeeding, keeping baby upright as you feed him, and avoiding playing with baby immediately after eating.

Reflux is when stomach contents back up into a baby's esophagus. To help manage reflux, feed baby a little less or more slowly at each meal; change or loosen baby's diaper; keep her upright after feeding for at least 30 minutes (for example, sit her in a swing or car seat); limit active play after eating; raise the head of baby's bed by propping up the mattress (not by pillows or stuffed animals) under the child’s head.

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Vomiting, when food comes up more forcefully, can have many causes -- an immature digestive system, infection, medication, and motion sickness, to name a few. Although vomiting usually gets better on its own, call the pediatrician if your baby appears dehydrated, has forceful vomiting or vomits for more than 24 hours, you see blood in the vomit, the child seems to be in pain, or he or she can't retain fluids. Forceful vomiting in infants may be caused by a physical condition called pyloric stenosis, which blocks food from moving into the intestines from the stomach. This condition, which commonly happens between the ages of 4 and 8 weeks, requires surgical correction.

Baby feeding problems can be caused by many things, so it's always a good idea to talk to your child’s health care provider if you’re concerned, especially if your child is not growing appropriately or is not reaching his milestones.

Call your child's pediatrician if your baby appears to be losing weight, is lethargic, seems to be dehydrated, has vomiting, gagging, or diarrhea that is persistent or related to certain foods, has abdominal pain, or simply if you have questions or concerns.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on September 18, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam Books, 2009.

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, registered dietitian; author, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler.

National Institutes of Health: "Food Allergy."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Feeding Problems in Infants and Children."

Children's Hospital Boston: "Newborn Gastrointestinal Problems."

American Dietetic Association: "Don't Feed Baby from the Jar" and "Introducing Solid Foods."

DrGreene.com: "Honey and Infant Botulism."

Children's Physician Network: "Picky Eaters."

Piette, L. Just Two More Bites: Helping Picky Eaters Say Yes to Food, Three Rivers Press, 2006.

Mackonochie, A. The Practical Encyclopedia of Pregnancy, Babycare and Nutrition for Babies and Toddlers, Lorenz Books, 2006.

Canadian Family Physician: "Feeding Problems of Infants and Toddlers."

KidsHealth.org: "Milk Allergy In Infants."

MedicineNet: "Digestive Diseases: GERD in Infants and Children."

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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