When children don't eat

Babies have their own way to communicate . If they don't feel comfortable, they usually let us know very clearly. Parents usually quickly understand what whimpering, roaring or whining of their little ones means. However, when a child refuses to eat, there are often more complex reasons behind it.

What is a feeding disorder?

When a toddler doesn't feel like eating their spinach, that's no reason to worry about it. It is only when a baby or toddler refuses to eat for a long period of time that it is considered a feeding disorder. Sometimes this manifests itself when the breastfeeding or feeding itself takes a long time to do it. In other cases, the child can only be fed if the parents distract it and thus cheat with the food on it.

A feeding disorder quickly puts a strain on the relationship with the child and often also on the relationship between the parents.

Our babies' world is constantly changing. The first few months and years are a particularly exciting time for both parents and child. But sometimes these changes unsettle the little ones, they react with a different crying behavior or an irregular sleeping rhythm and sometimes they no longer want to eat. A feeding disorder is the baby's way of responding to changes of the environment, such as suddenly stopping breastfeeding and instead being bottle-fed. It is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of all babies develop a feeding disorder in their first years of life. For most babies, however, these difficulties are overcomed quickly.

When should parents act?

There are several signs parents should watch out for: If the child…

  • ... resists the food, becomes aggressive or is afraid of it.
  • … eats or drinks very slowly.
  • … gets quickly exhausted from eating.
  • … has no appetite, is extremely picky, or prefers porridge even though he can already eat solid food.
  • … has problems with chewing or swallowing.
  • ... can only be fed in certain positions.
  • … is easily distracted and restless.
  • ... has a negatively altered digestion.
  • ... decrease instead of increase.

A pediatrician can identify whether there are emotional or physical reasons behind the feeding disorder as soon as the symptoms appear.

What can parents do?

Sometimes there are hidden traumas behind a feeding disorder. When the little psyche is hurt, a baby has little chance to express himself. Sometimes, on the other hand, the benevolent behavior of the parents is behind the refusal to eat. That's why one thing is particularly important when feeding: mindfulness. There are a few tricks parents can use to teach their child to enjoy eating:

  • Autonomy: Children learn through play, if a baby or toddler wants to eat by himself, he should be allowed to do so. Likewise, a child can decide what and how much he eats.
  • TimingIf a baby doesn't want to eat porridge yet, he usually shows his parents quite clearly. Parents should not follow advice from the outside, but rather listen to their child's reaction when it comes to switching to a different type of food
  • RegularityAs we know humans are creatures of habits, so this also and especially applies to very small humans. That is why parents create a clear daily structure with fixed rituals and always the same meal times
  • MealtimesThis also means that there should be no snacks between meals. Because the appetite will only come by the meal time if the child is not full beforehand.
  • PatienceIf the child has no appetite or doesn't feel like eating, they shouldn't have to eat or being forced to eat. Without judgments or disappointments, the meal is cancelled. With this way, the child learns that eating is an offer – and not an obligation.

Dealing with food in a healthy way requires a loving connection with the child. Patience and acceptance play a crucial role when children want to learn to eat.

Titelfoto by Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash