Dear Dr. Heather, My baby won't eat his baby food. His doctor says he's ready, but he's just not interested.
He takes a couple of bites here and there, but would really rather drink his milk. I'm starting to panic since the other babies in his playgroup are trying all sorts of baby food and really progressing. Not my guy. The doctor says he's healthy so I try not to worry, but do you have any suggestions?
I'm going through the same thing that reader Carla asks about: A baby who is lukewarm, at best, about eating baby food. Carla's son is 7 months old, and mine is 6 months. As parents, we're genetically wired to FEED OUR CHILDREN.
They must eat to grow, right? So, what if they won't eat? Here are some tips for parents like me whose babies would rather play than eat:
Babies Vary Widely and Can Still Be Normal
We're used to our babies marching along in lock-step with their baby peers on the magic developmental continuum. But this is where babies start to diverge. Some are huge eaters from the get-go (I had two of those), and some eat like little birdies (got two of those too). Think of adults (or even big kids): Some pack it away, others seem to subsist on air. When our first baby (a non-eater) dropped on her weight curve late in her first year, I started panicking. But her pediatrician pointed out that "some kids are slender. Be happy, she's healthy." He also pointed out that she still had enough cute baby chub to make baby dimples on her knees, despite her skinniness. She's now a skinny (and healthy) 9-year-old who still barely eats, some days. But our second kid ate so much that first year that my life seemed to revolve around procuring, preparing, and providing food to him. As a 10-month-old, one of his meals (of which there were FIVE per day) consisted of: half a block (and I mean half of the whole pack) of tofu, half an avocado, one cup of cheerios, and 6 ounces of milk. Of course, as always, check your baby's weight and eating habits out with your pediatrician.
It's a Learning Curve (for Some)
For some (like my second), eating is EASY. They know what to do immediately and do it with vigor. For others, it's a slow process that takes weeks (or months) of introductions, playing, experimentation, smearing, blowing raspberries (wonderful, trying to scrape solidified baby oatmeal off your jeans!) and basically NOT eating, before any food is consumed. Our first had this weird habit of sucking the "juice" out of any food, then spitting out the rest. This went on for months. She also really just preferred her milk. So although it's tiring to prepare yet another meal that you suspect won't be eaten, keep soldiering on, and don't let it get to you. This is a learning process that will set the tone for other parenting issues later on. Just breathe deeply and try not to worry about it as you dump yet another uneaten meal down the drain!
When to Ask for Help
Luckily, well-baby checkups are frequent during the first year of life, so you'll have ample opportunity to discuss any concerns with your pediatrician. If there's a concern, you can be referred to your local "Feeding Team", a group of clinicians who work with babies and these challenges at many children's hospitals. They are awesome specialists who can help. Barring any medical concern, you can feel comfortable that a slow, steady, and patient approach will win the day. Remember: You can't force your baby to eat, sleep, or poop. It's a process of learning and support that helps guide their development -- but a process that ultimately has to be driven by BABY, not eager parents like us.
Good luck, and happy eating (eventually).
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink