Most babies eat very well when they are growing quickly and in the first twelve months of life, growth is significant. Milk and solid foods (from around six months) are the fuel which provide energy for small people to grow and thrive.
Once a baby has their first birthday, a pattern tends to emerge amongst babies of a similar age. Even those who’ve always loved to eat and have never hesitated at mealtimes, can begin to lose interest in food. This can be concerning for parents, especially if there’s no obvious reason for the change.
Why is my baby not interested in eating?
If your baby is healthy and well, it’s unlikely there’s a physical cause for them not being as interested in food. Like the adults in their lives, babies aren’t always as hungry. Their development, sleep, behaviour and the impact of what else is going on in their life will have an influence on the way they eat.
Sometimes it’s impossible to work out why a baby isn’t keen on food. They seem well, nothing has changed but all of a sudden, they’re not keen to eat. Often, just as quickly as they lose interest in food they start eating again.
The general advice from experts is that babies need to be offered new foods around 10 or more times before they’ll give it a try. This reluctance to try new food may have a biological basis of suspicion being protective against eating foods which could be dangerous.
Give your baby time and space to explore new foods and textures. Be patient as they learn to expand their diet to include new things.
Sometimes babies refuse foods with increasing textures, though it’s important to progress beyond soft foods and purees. Don’t delay introducing more textured foods from six months of age.
Reasons why babies lose interest in eating
Every baby is an individual and has their own unique reasons for their behaviour. However, some of the common reasons for losing interest in eating are:
- They’re just not hungry and are already satisfied with the amount of milk and food they’re getting.
- They’re becoming sick, are already sick, or are recovering.
- They’re bored with the food being offered and want a change. Alternately, they want the same food as they’ve been having and aren’t interested in trying anything new. Babies can be very fussy!
- They’re growing through a developmental change and this is taking up much of their focus and attention. Some babies are more sensitive than others and even the slightest variation can flow-on to other behaviour changes.
Should I worry about my baby’s lack of interest in food?
Follow your own ‘gut instinct’ about what you feel is right for you and your little one. Sometimes it can be hard to describe changes in a baby’s behaviour. Other than a sense that something is not right, everything else about them can seem completely normal.
It’s always worth a medical check to rule out any physical cause for not eating.
It can be hard to know when a baby is simply a picky eater or their eating is a problem. Check here to understand more about the differences.
What can I do to encourage my baby to eat more?
Remember, there’s a limit to how much you can do to persuade your baby to eat more. Though some strategies can be useful:
- Try offering your baby different foods. Boredom can lead to food refusal.
- Offer small amounts of solids from around six months of age. Remember, milk is the primary source of nutrition in the first 9-12 months.
- Avoid offering treat foods. Babies quickly learn to favour sweet tastes and can fill up on yoghurt and fruit if they’re offered.
- Role model healthy eating and share (appropriate) foods and textures.
- Cut back on your baby’s milk feeds. By around 12 months of age, breastfed babies need around 3-4 feeds in 24 hours and formula fed babies a similar amount. As long as your baby is having plenty to eat and drink during the day and evening, they’re unlikely to need milk feeds overnight.
- Consider if your baby is filling up on water. Some babies just love to drink. Sips of water are fine, though if your baby is drinking lots of water, expect them not be as hungry.
- Aim to cease your baby’s bottles by around 12 months of age. Offer milk from a cup after their main meals. Sips of water when they wake overnight, rather than bottles of milk, will help to encourage more interest at mealtimes.
- Stay calm and patient. Avoid rewards, bargaining and threats if your child doesn’t eat.
- Support your baby’s skills in feeding themselves. Once they show interest in picking up food with their fingers, playing with food and self-feeding, they’re old enough not to be spoon fed any longer.
- Make mealtimes fun. Avoid stressing, and instead focus on the importance of interacting positively with your baby.
- Position their highchair against the table and where possible, eat together as a family.
- Don’t overload your child’s plate with food – it’s easy for small people to feel overwhelmed.
- Limit mealtimes to around 20-30 minutes and aim for mealtimes to be consistent and regular. Children thrive on predictability and routine, especially when it comes to mealtimes.
My baby’s not interested in eating, what’s important to know
- Make sure your baby is well and healthy. Loss of appetite can by a symptom of illness so it’s important to have your baby checked by a doctor. A sore throat or generally feeling unwell can lead to disinterest in eating.
- Offer your baby regular opportunities to eat. Look for their hunger cues and be organised with meals and preparation. In the same way that sleep times are best managed when a baby is showing tired signs, babies are more likely to eat well when they’re hungry.
- Remember that your role in your baby’s eating is to prepare and serve their food. What and how much they eat is under their control. Avoid investing a lot of emotional energy into your baby’s mealtimes. Keep things simple, focus on providing nutritious, healthy foods and avoid ‘snacking’ between meals.
- Too much milk in a young child’s diet will displace their appetite for real food. After nine months of age, offer your baby food first and then milk.
- Speak with your Child Health Nurse and/or GP about your child’s growth patterns. Check their percentile (growth) charts to make sure they’re following the same growth curve and not dropping down.
- Speak with your GP about checking your baby’s iron levels. Sometimes low iron (anaemia) can cause a lack of appetite and iron supplements are necessary.
About the Author:
Written for Nourish Baby by Jane Barry. Jane has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 35 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.
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