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Newborn and Infant Care

Why does a newborn refuse to feed?

09/12/2006

Question:

My new grandson was 3 weeks early.He will not suckle .He seems to have no interest in eating.He is being tube fed now,can you explain this,we are having trouble understanding why

Answer:

Most of us think that being born only 3 weeks early is not big problem. However, recent research confirms that these babies are indeed a vulnerable group of newborns. I will provide some possible causes below, but it really is best to talk with your grandson's doctors and nurses who know his and his mother's medical histories and have examined him thoroughly these past 3 weeks.

There are many reasons why a somewhat preterm infant will not feed. Without more information, it is difficult to determine what the problem is exactly. However, among the most common is that the baby has a significant level of jaundice that makes him drowsy and unresponsive to efforts to help him to feed. As the jaundice resolves, he becomes more alert and vigorous making feeding much easier. If his mother received anesthesia and/or pain medications prior to delivery, these may have passed into his system and have caused him to have poor tone and reflexes, making feeding difficult. As these medications are processed by his liver and kidneys and leave his body, he will become more vigorous and able to feed from a bottle.

A common serious problem of small, thin babies and sometimes a stubborn problem to fix is having a low blood sugar (glucose) for a prolonged period of time after birth. This can leave a newborn struggling to find the energy to feed from a bottle. Another common problem is having an infection, which may have been the reason why he came early. Having an infection makes the baby very weak and unable to feed. If this is the case, he will receive antibiotics. As the infection resolves, he will become more vigorous and able to feed.

Other more serious problems include asphyxia before or during the birth process that has caused his brain to receive too little oxygen through the placenta and this has lead to poor muscle tone and the inability to feed. He also may have been born with a problem in the function of his muscles and nerves that make the coordination of sucking, swallowing, and breathing difficult.

The doctors and nurses caring for your grandson will be happy to answer all of your questions and explain the conditions they are considering as the cause of his problems. They are your best resource for understanding what the problem is.

 

 

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University