What Should I Do If My Baby Doesn't Want to Eat?

Reviewed on 6/11/2021
A baby not wanting to eat is typical behavior. If your baby doesn't want to eat, try different feeding positions, wear clothing that allows for easy access to the breasts, maintain your milk supply and offer the breast often.
A baby not wanting to eat is typical behavior. If your baby doesn't want to eat, try different feeding positions, wear clothing that allows for easy access to the breasts, maintain your milk supply and offer the breast often.

First, quit worrying. This is typical toddler behavior. Kids have sensitive taste buds and are just learning to taste. Your child needs some encouragement and structure from you when it comes to mealtimes (such as regular meals and healthy choices). However, how much your child eats should ultimately be up to them. Your child may eat well one day and eat practically nothing the next. Rather than being hung up on the fact that your child has refused everything you put in front of them today, consider what they have eaten over one week. Parents are often surprised to find that their child's food intake balances out. As long as your child is growing and gaining weight accordingly, you can be confident that your toddler is getting enough to eat. If you're concerned, ask your child's doctor to go over your child's growth chart. You may be relieved to find out you don’t have anything to worry about. As long as your baby is active and playful and is not running a fever and they don’t have vomiting or loose stools, you can wait and watch. Keep an eye on the amount of urine your baby passes. If it is four to five times a day, there is nothing to worry about.

What should I do if my newborn baby doesn’t nurse?

Although you have a baby who adamantly resists nursing, getting your baby to the breast is possible, but with due time and patience. The following techniques have proven helpful for babies refusing the breast.

  • Feed the baby. A baby who is getting the right number of calories and nutrition is best able to learn how to nurse. The first choice for what to feed a non-nursing baby is the mother’s own milk. The second choice is banked milk from another mother and the third choice is infant formula. However, talk to the doctor before deciding to feed anything other than mother’s breast milk.
  • Maintain milk supply. If a mother’s milk supply is being maintained with an appropriate frequency and amount of milk expression, more time is available for her baby to learn to nurse. Moreover, baby’s efforts will be better rewarded (with more milk).
  • Very careful, supportive positioning can be very helpful when your baby is having problems breastfeeding. For example, a cross-cradle hold or modified football hold can be useful. Make sure the baby’s head is at a higher level than the rest of their body.
  • If your baby is tolerating it, then work on latching for up to 10 minutes or so. If your baby is getting upset, then go with shorter sessions. It is not a good idea to keep trying for more than about 10 minutes. The baby will be tired and latching will be harder. There is a risk of your baby developing an aversion to the breast if you persist too much.
  • You continue to offer expressed mother’s milk, banked milk, formula or solids (if your baby is old enough) for short times, but gradually get closer and closer to the nursing position, skin-to-skin, etc.
  • Wear clothing that allows very easy access to the breasts. Baby may get very impatient in the split-second that it takes a mother to lift her blouse and undo  her bra. Spend time, if possible, in a warm place that allows both mother and baby to be naked from the waist up.
  • Offer the breast often. Try breastfeeding in your baby’s favorite place, in their favorite position, in the bath, while walking around, while lying down, with your baby upright, with your baby flat on their back, in their sleep, just as they are waking and any time they look as if they might be interested or any other way you can think of (anytime and anywhere).

There are a few reasons that a newborn baby may not be eating enough such as a tongue-tie, blocked nose, stomach flu, illness or being born prematurely. However, regardless of the reason, if your newborn isn’t feeding normally, you should call their doctor, especially if your baby is sleepy and dull. This can be a sign of illness, infection or low blood sugar. Infants dehydrate easily and not eating can quickly turn into a medical issue. Generally, they shouldn’t go without feeding for longer than five hours for the first 12 weeks.

Why is breast milk important in the first six months of life?

An infant is solely dependent on milk and this single food has to supply the nutritional needs for rapid growth and development that an infant undergoes during that time. Breast milk is tailored for infants and provides all the nutrients and fluids they need during the first six months of life. It makes sense to feed babies with breast milk for the following reasons.

  • Breast milk contains exactly the right amount of energy (calories) and nutrients for each baby in a form that is easy for them to digest and absorb and which will ensure they develop optimally.
  • Breast milk contains the right amount of fluids, so extra water is not needed.
  • It contains antibodies that protect the baby from various viral diseases.
  • The constitution of breast milk adjusts itself as per babies. A premature baby’s mother will make breast milk that suits her baby better. The constitution of breast milk of a mother of a full-term baby will be different.
  • Breastfeeding offers significant health advantages for women including a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer.
  • Additionally, breastfeeding means an increased likelihood of returning to pre-pregnancy weight and that the return of the menstrual cycle is delayed. It reduces the risk of postpartum blues.

The World Health Organization recommends that wherever possible, all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

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References
WebMD: "Why Won't Baby Eat?" https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/why-wont-baby-eat#1

HealthLinkBC: "Helping Your 1 to 3 Year Old Child Eat Well." https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/helping-your-1-3-year-old-child-eat-well

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