Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Does my Infant Have an Eating Disorder?
I have an 11 month old that never wanted to eat solids. She is solely on formula and takes bites of random foods here and there. I have been trying to feed her since she was 3 months old. When I try to feed her, she screams, puts her hands in her mouth and pushes the spoon away and throws the bowl or spoon on the floor and, of course, throwing a fit. I have discussed this with my pediatrician and she says that it is my fault that she does not want to eat because I am giving her too much formula. The reason this has happened is because she refuses to eat, therefore, I have replaced her meals with the formula. How can I leave her without eating? I have tried her suggestion of limiting her formula to 4 bottles a day, while trying to give her 3 meals....I did it for 7 days and no signs of improvement. Can this be an eating disorder at such a young age or with she simply grow out of it?
It is possible for a young child to have a medical problem that limits their ability to handle solid foods. However, much more commonly, it is a habit. Even in the first weeks of life, babies prefer sweet and salty and reject bitter and sour tastes. Further, they reject new foods, especially new textures.
To overcome this, studies show that parents need to offer new foods more than 10 times to infants for it to become accepted. At this point, it seems as if your child has established a firm rejection of solids. Some of the things that you can try to overcome this:
1) Eliminate the bottle or sippy cup. Feed only from a cup.
2) Offer small amounts of thin solids from the cup at the very start of each meal or snack. Very thin Cream of Wheat or mashed potatoes might be a good start.
3) If the baby accepts the taste, offer praise and happy faces. If the baby rejects the taste, turn your attention away for 15 seconds. Keep repeating this, using only small tastes of new textures and tastes.
4) As the baby tries new foods, very gradually make them thicker. Remember to give enthusiastic praise when something new is tried and to turn away if the baby rejects it.
5) After each meal or snack, when you have tried a variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, table foods, then offer formula, only from a cup and only 4 ounces. Don't worry if the baby eats only a little. If she still wants something after the formula, offer more new foods. Wait another hour or two and try again.
6) Have the baby eat at the family table. Offer small bites of soft foods that you are having, if the baby seems interested. Keep in mind that a normal infant eats 6 times per day. Each meal doesn't need to be large and doesn't need to be accompanied by formula. Help the baby develop a taste for water, too. If you still are struggling, Nationwide Children's has a feeding clinic to help you. Good luck!
Robert D Murray, MD
Clinical Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion
Retired Professor of Human Nutrition
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University