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What to do when your baby refuses a meal? ..... and when to get help.

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

When your baby refuses to eat a meal, it can be concerning and frustrating. However, it's important to remember that occasional food refusal is common in babies, and not usually an issue for concern.

When you are starting solids with your baby it is important to know there will be many occasions that your baby may refuse to eat, or will appear to eat very little, and that can be completely normal. Healthy growing babies are great at knowing when they are hungry and when they are full and following your baby’s cues for hunger or fullness is important to establish a trusting relationship with food, and allow space for the transition from a fully liquid diet to solid foods that all look, taste, feel and smell different.

Here are a few points I discuss in my Expert Guide to Starting Solids EBook about responsive feeding to give parents confidence on how to follow cues for starting solids:

- Breastfeeding or Bottle feeding will be the main source of your child's nutrition before 12 months of age whilst they learn how to eat a variety of solids, and when first starting out until your baby is well established on solids, breastfeeds or bottle feeds should be offered 30-60 minute before solids.

- It is normal for a baby’s appetite to vary from day to day or meal to meal. If your baby is not hungry at a meal, refuses a meal, or eats a smaller portion, trust your baby's instincts and avoid pressuring them to eat more. It's okay if they eat smaller portions or skip a meal occasionally, as long as they are growing and developing normally.

- It is okay and completely safe to end the meal if your baby is not hungry, disinterested, upset, or tired.

- Although it may seem tempting, avoid coaxing, forcing, or tricking your baby to eat if they have refused. This creates stressful mealtimes for children and parents, and long-term can lead to more food refusal. How much or, if your baby eats at a meal is their job to decide.

What can I do If my baby refuses a meal?

- Stay calm: Babies can sense your stress or frustration, which may make them even more resistant to eating. It is okay and perfectly safe to end the meal calmly and try again at the next meal or tomorrow.

- Avoid topping up with foods like yoghurt or custard, or serving a completely different meal if your baby has not eaten. It takes time to learn to eat a variety of foods, but do serve 2-3 options at the meal and this can include different textures, to make the meal nutritionally complete....for example, an iron food like beef with a fruit or vegetable.

- Check to see if the texture or the way food is served meets your child's capabilities and nutrition needs.

- Bring the focus to learning rather than how much they are eating, have they touched the food, have they had an opportunity to feel the food you have offered, have you put food on their tray that they can interact with? Learning to eat food takes time and practice and it can still be a successful meal even if they have not eaten much at all.

- Check the timing of the meal, are they overtired, or over-hungry?

When to get help?

Every baby is different, and their eating habits can vary. If you are concerned about your baby's feeding skills, intake, growth, or overall nutrition, individual advice, and assessment are always best.

If your baby is refusing all or most solid foods with little progress at 7 to 8 months of age, individual advice and assessment from a Paediatric Dietitian are recommended, see booking information and resources below.

X Anna

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