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A to Z: Feeding Problems, Infant

May also be called: Infant Feeding Problems

Infant feeding problems are eating-related conditions or behaviors that keep a baby from getting the nutrition his or her growing body needs.

More to Know

Feeding problems occur when babies refuse food, eat small amounts of food, eat a limited variety of food, or have problems digesting food. With infants who are still on breast milk or formula, this can mean things like ineffective sucking, spitting up too much, or refusing the nipple or bottle. Feeding problems are quite common, affecting almost half of normally developing children and up to 80% of children with developmental delays. Usually most of these problems are not serious, especially if a child is doing well in terms of growth and development.

Feeding problems can start for a number of reasons — particularly having an illness and vomiting in the first months of life — and they can cause parents a lot of stress and frustration. This often leads to a situation called “mealtime negativity.” The infant can start to associate bad feelings with mealtimes and food, which can make the feeding problems worse. Introducing a relaxed feeding environment with regular meals and emphasizing conversation, exploration of foods, and small portions can go a long way toward improving a child’s feeding habits.

Children with severe untreated feeding problems may have more serious issues with growth, behavior, and development that could become life threatening. Treatment is focused on identifying the problem as early as possible and taking steps to correct it. This can involve working with parents to establish better feeding practices, treating any underlying illnesses, and, if recommended by the doctor, giving the baby nutritional supplements to support his or her growth.

Keep in Mind

Feeding problems are common in children and can generally be improved with changes in household behaviors. Because feeding problems can become dangerous, parents should address them as soon as possible after diagnosis. Treatment can take some time and involve the whole family, so parents need to be patient and understanding to avoid making problems worse. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, many infant feeding problems can be controlled before they lead to more serious issues.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.