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Loss of appetite in babies

October 21, 2020 • read

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Loss of appetite in babies

Feeding your baby is such a huge part of parenting — you give them a bottle to stop their crying, nurse them when they’re sick, and have a great time exploring different foods when they get big enough. It’s up there on the list of life’s great pleasures and it can be an incredible bonding opportunity. So when your baby loses their appetite, it’s distressing, no matter what stage of life they’re at. Here’s how to navigate loss of appetite in your baby.

What to do if your newborn baby isn’t eating

There are a few reasons that a newborn baby may not be eating enough — a tongue tie, illness or being born prematurely. But regardless of the reason, if your newborn isn’t feeding normally, you should call their doctor, especially if your baby’s sleepy and has loss of appetite. This can be a sign of illness, infection or low blood sugar. Infants dehydrate easily and not eating can quickly turn into a medical issue. Generally they shouldn’t go without feeding for longer than five hours for their first 12 weeks.

Loss of appetite in baby’s first year

Your baby will likely double their birth weight in their first four months. By the time they hit one, they’ll probably have tripled it. You’ve no doubt heard about growth spurts — periods of time where babies grow more rapidly and noticeably than other times. To facilitate all that growth, they’ve got to drink a lot of milk, or take in a lot of formula. But when that growth spurt ends, their appetite often falls off for a little while. We often see this temporary loss of appetite in three- to four-month-old babies because they’ve just come off of a growth spurt.

Loss of appetite in your baby at two months might also be because of a lull in growth, but it’s more likely due to a change in the composition of your breastmilk. Until about six weeks, your breast milk contains colostrum, which has a laxative effect on baby. As the amount of colostrum diminishes, your baby’s food goes through them less rapidly, which can trigger a decrease in appetite (as well as the number of poopy diapers you deal with).

Teething and loss of appetite

Babies’ first teeth usually come in at about six months. The last of their baby teeth, the molars, appear around age two. So the loss of appetite in babies and toddlers which teething often causes, can strike pretty much any time within their first two years. Luckily, the effects of teething don’t typically last longer than a few days per tooth.

Loss of appetite in toddlers

Your three-year-old might eat as much as a full grown adult sometimes, but a cookie is still big enough to take the edge off her hunger. While the end of a growth spurt could be the culprit, if your toddler is suddenly eating less at mealtimes, find out if they’re snacking throughout the day. A granola bar or a handful of veggie chips won’t fill us up, but your toddler’s stomach is much smaller. Keep food to mealtime as much as possible or get used to trotting out dinner again just before bedtime.

While loss of appetite is usually nothing to worry about, it can sometimes mean your child is sick — especially if they have other symptoms. If your toddler has both diarrhea and loss of appetite, for example, it’s possible that they’ve come down with stomach flu — whether they have a fever or not. And a vomiting toddler with loss of appetite and diarrhea likely has gastroenteritis or the stomach flu. You can usually treat these conditions at home provided you monitor your child for signs of dehydration.

How to increase an infant’s appetite

Newborns have tiny stomachs so they can only take in a little bit of food at each feed. This means they need to eat every two to three hours, or a minimum of eight times a day. For their first few weeks of  life, it seems like they’re constantly at your breast or wanting their bottle. It’s a lot of work, but as your baby grows, their stomach will too, and the amount of food they take at each feeding will increase. As much as you may want to boost your child’s appetite, the only safe way to do it is to wait. There are no vitamins for babies to increase their appetite, for example. And you should never force feed your child, or add cereal to their bottle (despite what your mother-in-law tells you). An infant’s digestive system isn’t ready for anything other than breastmilk or formula until around four to six months. Introducing it sooner can put them at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

As upsetting as it can be, loss of appetite in babies is common and you can usually trust that your baby’s body knows what it needs. As long as your baby is otherwise healthy and growing normally it’s probably nothing to worry about. Keep offering and eventually they’ll start taking it. And as always, speak to a doctor or pediatrician if you’re concerned.

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