Poor Feeding in Infants

Written by Kati Blake | Published on July 30, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Poor Feeding in Infants

Poor feeding in infants is used to describe an infant with little interest in feeding. It can also refer to an infant who is not feeding enough to receive the necessary nutrition required for adequate growth.

This symptom can be caused by a variety of incidents. It is different from picky eating, in which a baby may reject one form of milk for another, or a toddler may refuse certain foods.

According to the World Health Organisation, 30 percent of children under 5 years old worldwide have growth problems as a consequence of poor feeding (WHO, 2010).

Causes of Poor Feeding in Infants

Premature babies are typically poor feeders. However, feeding usually increases as the baby grows. Other causes include congenital conditions such as herpes and jaundice, and infections such as viral gastroenteritis. Once these conditions are treated, poor feeding usually subsides.

Serious Conditions

Poor feeding can also be caused by serious conditions, such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. This is an overgrowth syndrome that causes infants to be particularly large and grow at a considerably fast pace. Other serious conditions include:

  • congenital hypothyroidism: occurs when the thyroid fails to develop or function properly
  • hypoplastic left heart: rare condition that occurs when the left side of the heart fails to develop properly, and is unable to pump blood to the body
  • infant botulism: can occur when an infant ingests the clostridium botulinum bacteria, which produce a dangerous toxin in the body that can affect breathing and eating

Emergency Care

Seek immediate medical attention if your baby is showing any of the following signs:

  • has not fed in over four hours
  • has a fever of over 100 degrees F
  • is vomiting after feeding
  • is vomiting blood
  • has a persistent and worsening cough
  • is crying constantly
  • has bloody stool
  • is wheezing
  • is becoming unresponsive to touch

Treatment of Poor Feeding in Infants

Poor feeding that is caused by an infection will normally stop when the infection is treated.

Treatment is the same for other causes of poor feeding. This can involve changing the feeding schedule to consist of smaller, more frequent meals. It can also involve switching feeding methods from breast to bottle. If a milk-based intolerance is suspected, your doctor will work closely with you to find a formula that suits your baby. If you have been formula-feeding your baby, your doctor may ask you to try breastfeeding to see if your baby feeds better.

Poor feeding in infants can lead to serious issues such as malnutrition and stunted growth. It is essential that babies feed and digest the necessary nutrients to thrive and develop. Any infant who is feeding poorly should be taken to a doctor so that a treatment plan can be produced.

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