It always makes me feel sad when a mother tells me her baby is struggling to eat, even in the newborn period. The mother of a two-week-old baby told me her baby didn’t like to drink his bottle and didn’t care a bit if he ate or not. Another mother told me she struggled with getting her daughter to nurse and finally gave up. She had similar feeding struggles when she switched to bottle feeding and then proceeded to try several bottles and formulas without success. It took her an hour just to get her to take a few ounces. Most babies instantly stop fussing and crying at the first sip of milk. Until you have fed a baby with reflux, you could never imagine how difficult it is. I wonder if the roots of picky eating begin in early infancy almost from the first sip of milk.
A baby who struggles with eating (newborn or early infancy) may have the following symptoms:
- Turns away from bottle or breast
- Cries or fusses when the bottle is presented
- Takes a long time to eat a small amount of formula or breast milk
- Skips feedings without distress
- Cries and fusses during a meal
- Chokes, coughs or vomits during or after a meal
- Seems hungry but refuses to eat
- Takes a few sips, then begins to cry
- Spits out formula or breast milk
- Seems distracted during feeding
A baby who turns away from the bottle or breast and cries during eating may be reacting negatively due to pain from reflux. Every sip of milk may burn the throat and esophagus. A doctor may call this pattern of eating Feeding Aversion.
It is important to report your struggles with feeding to the doctor since feeding aversion is a warning sign that your baby is in pain. The problems associated with feeding aversion need to be addressed promptly before your baby decides that feeding is too painful. Unfortunately, a few babies will give up on eating and go on a feeding strike, refusing all nourishment by mouth. While the reflux treatments may not take care of all reflux symptoms, finding a treatment to reduce pain and allow a baby to eat without pain is extremely important.
Feeding struggles can be painful for the caretakers too. To many mothers, a healthy, well fed baby is a sign of their success as a parent. You may blame yourself for the feeding problems and view it as a reflection of your parenting abilities. It may seem like your baby doesn’t like you or that your milk supply is bad. Try not to blame yourself or feel that you need to fix this problem by yourself. Remember, your baby has a medical condition that is causing pain and she is reacting to the pain by behaving differently during mealtime. Like any good parent, you are reading her cues and responding to her needs as best you can. You both are struggling. In time, the medical treatment will lessen the pain and mealtime will be more enjoyable for both of you.