Help! My baby won’t eat – dealing with fussy eating
It can be upsetting and frustrating for you both if your baby doesn’t eat much, it’s really hard when you’ve made food that is refused, and it can feel like rejection.
It might help to know that babies don’t need to eat a lot at every meal every day. Nutrition will still be coming from milk during these early days (until 12 months) so they will still be getting what they need from breastmilk or formula.
Some of the reasons we feel anxious about how much our baby is eating may be down to a variety of reasons such as:
- If your baby was premature and it was critical to get them to eat during the early weeks, these feelings of needing to promote eating are hard to stop, even if your baby is doing well by 6 months.
- If your baby is smaller than others of a similar age it’s hard not to compare them and feel like you need to feed up your baby.
- If you think eating more will help them sleep at night – it’s natural to want to try all sorts of things to get your baby to sleep longer through the night, especially if you haven’t sleep well for months.
Let’s look at what we mean by ‘fussy eating’ breaking it down into stages of weaning:
If your baby doesn’t want much food during the first few months of weaning, sometimes it’s about resetting our expectations as parents about the amount of food your baby should eat. It can take a few months to get used to food, so the first few months are really about your baby exploring food texture, taste, swallowing and enjoying meal times, as well as connecting hunger to food. This is a big change from the milk feeds they are used to.
- If your baby is less than 6 months and they aren’t interested in food, perhaps wait another week or so and try again. Don’t worry if others have already started, each baby is different and on their own timescales.
- Signs they have had enough may be clamping mouth shut tight, turning head away when food is offered, pushing spoon or bowl away, cries / shouting / screaming.
- Perhaps your baby isn’t feeling great, or may be teething with a sore mouth and gums, and as adults sometimes we have periods when we feel less hungry.
- Most babies eat what they want from a meal within 20 minutes – so if the meal is dragging on too long then finish up and start again later or tomorrow.
- Allow your baby plenty of control over what they eat by giving finger foods or allow them to use the spoon themselves.
- Keep positive, talk to your baby about what they are eating, mention the colour and tastes, where the food comes from. Talk about what they have eaten, and don’t focus on what they didn’t like.
- Babies learn from copying us, so whenever you can sit and eat with your baby, you’re creating a family mealtime, not just getting nutrients into your baby. If you can’t sit at the table with them then be busy nearby so you’re not hovering over them waiting for the next mouthful.
Fussy Eating Around 12 months old:
- Think about how much milk they are drinking, if they are still getting a lot of milk drinks by 12 months then this can impact their appetite so think about reducing milk feeds gently or extending the time between feeds gradually.
- Babies naturally develop neophobia, a fear of new things, between 1-2yrs old, they may think new foods could be poisonous so don’t want to try anything new. Offer a mix of new and known foods.
- If you’re giving more attention when your baby eats less, they can sometimes use ‘not eating’ as a way to get your attention. Try eating together and sharing a mealtime with no distractions to help focus on your baby whilst they are eating.
- Aim for regular meals from 12 months with snacks in between, and create a routine that your baby can get comfortable with. Leave around 2-3 hours in between meal / snack times.
- Let them eat as much as they want, asking once or twice if they had had enough, and then finish the meal.
- Offer more food at the next snack time and don’t worry if they haven’t eaten much, you know you’ll be offering more food again later.
Use snacks as an opportunity to get the missing nutrients in, so offering hummus and vegetables sticks, a boiled egg, or a rice cake with nut butter is better than a biscuit. Make every bite nutritious and healthy.