“Poor feeding in infants” is a term 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.
Poor growth associated with lack of feeding can lead to a separate condition called failure to thrive.
Poor feeding is caused by a variety of factors. It differs from picky eating, in which a baby may reject one form of milk for another or a toddler may refuse certain foods.
No matter the precise cause of poor feeding, undernutrition is a top concern. In fact, the
It is important not to dismiss poor feeding as something that will improve over time. This is a critical point in your child’s life, and missing key nutrients can lead to physical and cognitive concerns.
One of the most common causes of poor feeding is premature birth. Premature babies are typically poor feeders because they often have not yet developed the skills needed to suck and swallow milk.
Still, feeding usually increases as baby grows. If your little one was born prematurely and still has feeding trouble after leaving the hospital, it’s important to continue following up closely with your pediatrician, particularly if feeding concerns worsen or do not improve.
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. It affects an estimated 1 in 13,700 newborns worldwide.
Other serious conditions include:
- congenital hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid fails to develop or function properly
- other genetic conditions, including Down syndrome
- hypoplastic left heart, a rare condition that occurs when the left side of the heart fails to develop properly and is unable to pump blood to the body
- other heart defects
Less serious conditions
Other causes of poor feeding aren’t related to a congenital condition at all. Temporary illnesses can make feeding uncomfortable (and even painful) for infants.
Common ailments that get in the way of feeding include:
When in doubt, it’s always best to double-check with a pediatrician. You don’t want to assume a minor illness when in fact there could be a serious underlying condition.
Feeding difficulty is a serious matter. When accompanied by other symptoms, emergency care may be required. Seek immediate medical attention if your baby is showing any of the following signs:
- has a fever of over 100°F (37.8°C), an emergency in babies 3 months old and younger
- is vomiting after every feeding
- is vomiting blood
- has a cough with breathing difficulties
- is crying constantly
- has bloody stool
- is wheezing
- is becoming unresponsive to touch
Poor feeding that is caused by an infection will usually stop when the infection is resolved.
Treatment of poor feeding depends on the cause. This can involve changing the feeding schedule to consist of smaller, more frequent meals. If a milk-based intolerance is suspected, your doctor will work closely with you to find a formula and feeding plan that suits your baby.
While serious cases of poor feeding require prompt medical care, other causes can be resolved at home with the advice of a pediatrician.
If your baby is breastfeeding or chestfeeding, try to avoid:
- certain medications that can enter breast milk
- applying lotions and other skin products to your breasts
- high levels of stress — this may also make your milk taste differently
Other considerations may concern formula feeding as well as infants who have started solid foods.
While breastfeeding is the method of feeding for infants recommended by health agencies such as
If your baby doesn’t seem to latch on despite repeated attempts, you may consider talking with your doctor about formula feeding. You may still be able to try breastfeeding or chestfeeding, even when supplementing with formula, if you’d like.
The key is that your baby gets adequate nutrition. A lactation consultant may be helpful, if available to you.
After baby reaches 6 months of age, your pediatrician may encourage you to introduce solids to their diet. While solids shouldn’t replace breast milk at this phase of your child’s life, most infants require additional nutrients around the 6-month mark.
- rice cereal
- pureed fruits and vegetables
- pureed or soft meats
Introducing solid foods can be exciting for both caregiver and child. However, some infants don’t take to solids as readily as other babies.
This can be alarming, but the issue may be solved by:
- mixing cereal with solid foods
- offering solids in small increments
- only giving solids two to three times per day
- starting with one food at a time, then introducing others as your baby gets used to solids
When an infant doesn’t like solids, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they are a “picky eater.” However, this phase doesn’t usually start until your baby becomes a toddler.
When your baby is eating poorly, it’s easy to get stressed out. This is especially true for new parents who may not yet know the distinctions between serious conditions and minor feeding concerns.
Remember that stress can worsen feeding concerns. It may interfere with attempts at feeding if your infant senses something is wrong.
Managing your stress won’t treat all causes of poor feeding, but it can help in many cases.
It’s difficult to find time for yourself during this busy stage of your life — even a few minutes a day can help. When you feel stress coming on during feedings, take a moment for some deep breathing.
Poor feeding in infants can lead to serious issues, such as malnutrition and stunted growth. It is essential that babies consume and digest the necessary nutrients to thrive and develop.
Any infant who is feeding poorly should be taken to a pediatrician for evaluation. After a proper diagnosis, treatment may be necessary.
In other cases, poor feeding can be resolved through refined techniques and perseverance at home. If you suspect feeding difficulties may be causing other concerns, call a doctor right away.