How Can I Help My Baby With Feeding Problems?

Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2022

Understanding minor feeding problems in babies

Nearly half of children who develop normally have eating problems, whereas nearly 80% of children with developmental delays have eating problems. Help your baby with feeding problems by feeding smaller portions, focusing on the positive and providing pediatrician-recommended nutritional supplements.
Help your baby with feeding problems by feeding smaller portions, focusing on the positive, and providing pediatrician-recommended nutritional supplements.

If your baby has a feeding problem, they may struggle to stay hydrated and get adequate nutrition. The good news is that you can help. After identifying your infant's feeding problem, you can take steps to improve their ability to eat and drink.

If your baby refuses to eat, they aren't being difficult. There may be an underlying condition that prevents them from eating or drinking correctly.

Nearly half of children who develop normally have eating problems, whereas nearly 80% of children with developmental delays have eating problems. Signs that your baby has a minor feeding problem include the following:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Eating very little
  • Eating a narrow variety of foods
  • Inability to suck or swallow correctly

How can parents address minor feeding problems?

If your baby spits up a lot in the first months of life, it can feel very stressful. You may wonder if your baby is getting enough nutrition. However, feeding problems aren't severe unless they affect your baby's growth and development. As long as your baby continues to gain weight and grow as expected, you should set your worries aside.

Focus on the positive: Feeling anxious around feeding and mealtimes can make your baby feel nervous too. This can lead to negativity around mealtimes that extends into childhood. Try to relax at feeding times. Make it a fun, sweet bonding experience, so your baby looks forward to feeding times as much as possible.

Smaller portions: You can follow your child's lead on how much they want to eat and encourage healthy habits without causing stress. For example, you can encourage your baby to eat smaller portions more often instead of larger portions less often.

Nutritional supplements: If your baby's feeding problems concern your doctor, they may recommend dietary supplements. If you breastfeed, you may need to introduce a special formula between feedings for added calories. If your baby is older, your pediatrician may recommend children's protein drinks.

Understanding serious feeding problems in babies

If your baby loses weight or struggles to gain weight, they may have a more serious feeding problem. Your child may have a feeding disorder that prevents them from getting enough nutrition to stay healthy. When this happens, your pediatrician may refer you to other medical professionals that specialize in infant feeding.

Some common reasons for more serious feeding problems include the following:

The following are signs that your baby has a serious feeding problem:

  • Choking or gagging while nursing or taking a bottle
  • Throwing up is different than spitting up because it is forceful.
  • Difficulty eating and breathing at the same time
  • No interest or ability to eat pureed foods by 8 months
  • No interest or ability to eat table foods by 12 months
  • Not drinking from a regular cup by 16 months
  • Eating fewer than 20 different foods
  • Crying or acting like they are in pain during meals

How can parents address serious feeding problems?

Once you talk to your baby's pediatrician, you can pursue specialized help for your baby. Addressing feeding problems earlier rather than later is essential. You may be able to help your baby overcome feeding problems before they become worse.

Physical therapy: If your child struggles with overall strength, a physical therapist can help with activities to improve muscle tone. While this may not help directly with feeding, it can help your child's overall wellbeing. Physical therapy may also give your child a confidence boost to improve eating.

Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can work with your child specifically on eating. You can pack a meal or snacks, and the therapist will help your child grow comfortable with the food. Steps may include the following:

  • Feeling comfortable holding and touching the food
  • Tasting the food or putting it in their mouth without chewing
  • Chewing the food
  • Eating the food

Lactation consultant: If your baby is breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can help identify issues with nursing. These may include:

  • Poor latch
  • Low milk supply
  • Fast letdown
  • Allergy to foods like dairy, soy, or gluten

Efforts at home: When you're at home with your child, don't argue about food or meals. It is important to understand that your child's eating problem isn't a choice. Just as with minor feeding problems, try to make meals fun and enjoyable. You can still introduce new foods, but take it slowly and be patient. You may have to introduce the same food many times before your child tries it or likes it.

When meeting with medical professionals, it is vital that you learn about your baby's condition and fully understand your baby's feeding problem. You might want to ask the following questions:

  • What is the cause of the feeding problem?
  • What specific steps can I take to help at home?
  • What is the treatment plan?
  • What are the goals of the treatment plan?
  • When can I expect to see improvements in my baby's eating?


Parenting Guide: Healthy Eating for Kids See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2022

Advocate Children's Hospital. "A to Z: Feeding Problems, Infant."

ASHA. "Feeding and Swallowing Disorders in Children."

Intermountain Healthcare. "Feeding Problems."