There can be any number of reasons why babies and toddlers refuse to eat or drink. But continually forcing them to take something into their mouth can create a negative emotion towards the experience of eating. Overtime, this recurring negative event becomes a conditioned response to the act of eating, even if the food is normally enjoyed. This is known as feeding aversion.
Babies and toddlers learn skills and perform tasks best when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. If drinking or eating causes babies and toddlers to become frightened or stressed it sets up a negative feeling. This can become an ongoing feeding aversion. Some of the situations that could create an aversion include:
- Force feeding—making babies and toddlers take in food or drink against their will
- Choking episodes—where babies and toddlers have swallowed something that occluded the airway requiring help to be dislodged
- A stressful environment while feeding such as loud angry talking or fighting
- Discomfort or pain is often the first reason explored by professionals when babies and toddlers are presented with a feeding aversion. However, in most cases, pain doesn’t usually just happen when feeding begins there is usually other signs of pain between feeds
- Unpleasant but necessary medical interventions such as tube feeds
- Hypersensitivity to texture, taste, smell or temperature—often linked to allergy or intolerance associated with particular foods and fluids.
A feeding aversion is constant and continues overtime. Some things that may suggest a feeding aversion are:
- Appearing hungry but refuse to eat
- Fussing and crying when bib is placed around the neck
- Fussing and crying when placed into a feeding position or when the bottle is presented
- Clamping their mouth shut and turning their head away from the breast, bottle, spoon or food
- Skipping feeds or meals without distress
- Only taking a few sips of liquid or a small portion of food offered before pulling away or arching their back and crying. (Back arching can also be a tired sign)
- Only feeding while drowsy or asleep
- Consuming less milk or food than expected for their age
- Displaying poor growth and possibly diagnosed as ‘failure to thrive’.
Unresolved feeding aversion can lead to a break down in relationships between babies and toddlers and their parents. It may also make mothers feel inadequate or embarrassed to take their child out during a time that involves feeding.
Constant food refusal can lead to poor weight gain and a lack of important nutrients, which can lead to reduced energy and motivation to explore and discover their world. Rectify feeding problems by seeking professional advice early.
This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, Private Child Health Consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep, nutrition, activities and family balance. Jan publishes regular ezine and blog articles to provide free parenting tips, tools and resources to educate and support those caring for young babies and children. For more online resources visit