As parents, it's natural to be concerned when your baby eats less food, especially if they are already small in size or weight. But remember this:
- Babies under 1 year are deriving their main nutrition from breast milk or formula. Solid foods are not meant to be the main source of nutrition nor are they solely responsible for weight gain.
- It’s normal for babies’ appetites to fluctuate, so they may eat different amounts of food on different days. Remember, babies are tiny humans, so their appetites will match their size.
- No two babies will eat the same amount of food. There aren’t even specific guidelines on how much a baby “should” eat. But if you, as a parent, feel that your baby is eating less or is now eating less than they ate before, then keep reading.
Why Do Babies Eat Less?
Let’s look at common reasons why babies may have a drop in appetite. These reasons are not a cause for worry.
1) Feeling under the weather: When your baby is sick, their appetite can take a hit. Their little bodies are busy fighting off infections and healing, so it's only natural for their appetite to dip during these times. Whether it's a cold, cough, or a sore throat, eating can become a tough task for them.
2) Growing pains: Babies go through growth spurts, and their nutritional needs can change from day to day. They're intuitive little eaters who know how to regulate their hunger and fullness cues. So, some days they might devour a whole bowl, while other days they might take a few bites.
3) Teething troubles: Teething can make your little one's gums sore and tender, which can lead to discomfort while eating. So, it's understandable if they eat less during teething episodes.
4) Vaccination: Sometimes, after getting vaccinated, babies may experience minor side effects like fever or body pain. These temporary reactions can also cause a temporary loss of appetite.
5) Tummy troubles: Just like adults, babies can have digestive issues like constipation or gas, and these can affect their appetite.
6) Mealtime stress: Believe it or not, your baby picks up on your anxiety or stress during mealtimes. When parents focus too much on meeting nutritional goals or worrying about how much their baby is eating, it can create a tense environment. Babies may eat less when they sense that stress.
Tips to Help Your Baby Eat Well
Now that we understand why babies eat less, let's explore how to encourage healthy eating habits.
1) Timing is key: Make sure your baby isn't sleepy or tired when it's mealtime. Being alert and rested helps keep their interest in food.
2) Ensure variety: Avoid offering just the one or two foods that your baby enjoys. Give them a variety of foods to keep things interesting, to ensure they get all essential nutrients, and to get them comfortable with different tastes and textures.
3) Start small: Start with smaller portions and let your baby indicate when they're ready for more. Refilling their plate as they finish will prevent overwhelming them with too much food.
4) Trust their cues: Babies are smart when it comes to their hunger and fullness cues. Pay attention and respond accordingly. It's absolutely fine if they don't eat a lot one day. They'll make up for it later.
5) Teething TLC: If your little one is teething, offer soft or cold foods like popsicles or curd to soothe their gums. It's a win-win for them and their taste buds!
6) Stay calm: Keep a calm and patient atmosphere during mealtimes. Remember, it's a learning experience for your baby, and they can't express themselves fully yet.
7) Avoid force-feeding: Avoid the temptation to force-feed your baby. It can create negative associations with food, reduce their appetite, and make mealtimes a battle zone. Let's keep it positive!
8) Avoid beverages or drinks: Juices and beverages may fill up your baby's little tummy, leaving less room for nutritious foods. It's best to wait a bit before introducing them.
Your Baby Is Healthy When…
Here are signs that indicate that your baby is eating as much as they want and are doing just fine!
- They're full of energy and playfulness.
- They're gaining weight steadily.
- Their bowel movements are normal.
- They're growing as expected, following their growth curve.
Fluctuations in their appetite are completely normal, so don’t worry about the quantities they’re consuming every day.
When Does Eating Less Become a Concern?
If you observe the following behavior patterns in your little one, it’s best to consult with your doctor immediately.
1) Consistent lack of interest: If your baby refuses to eat for almost two weeks, and there are no apparent reasons like teething or illness, seek advice.
2) Food frights: If your baby bursts into tears at the mere sight of food.
3) Persistent food aversions: If your baby constantly rejects a particular type of food or texture (e.g., sticky lumpy food like porridges and khichdi) over an extended period of time.
4) Gradual decrease in food intake: If your baby's food intake continues to decrease day by day.
In any of the above situations, please seek the advice of a healthcare professional, so you can identify the underlying cause and find a solution.
Babies’ appetites will fluctuate, and it’s okay if they are excited to eat a certain food on day 1 and refuse to look at that same food on day 4. There’s no reason to worry. Simply make sure you’re physically and mentally present with your baby at mealtimes. These small mindful actions go a long way in helping your baby become a joyful eater!