It gets very stressful for parents when their child refuses to eat or is not eating well.
Mostly in those situations, we try to distract(use screens), coax, force or bribe the child into eating.
Why do most of us do that is because of our societal norms around eating. We have our preset notions about eating and we get worried if our child is not following that. More so, in situations where the child is towards leaner side. Often parents get extra worried if the people around them start offering suggestions, thus, making the parents feel judged or incompetent.
Let us explore common reasons for it…..
Why is the child not eating?
Can it be that we are stressing the child out? Now this can happen in many situations, like always trying to make the child eat, pressing the child to eat, overwhelming the child with coaxing, stressful family environment due to conflicts etc.
Another reason could be that the child is on lots of animal milk and on junk snacks like biscuits / cookies etc.
In children with anaemia, and other chronic illnesses appetite can be suppressed.
A word about breastfed children…..
Breastfeeding complements eating (or vice versa), it is NEVER the cause of child not eating well.
Breastfed babies get 60 percent of their caloric and nutrient requirements from breastmilk in between 6-12 month of age and around 40 percent of same in the 2nd year.
If your child is breastfed and not eating well, explore your way of offering foods, to figure out why your child is not eating well. It is a good idea to introspect and explore your own food related issues and complexes. Also notice if you are leading by example as far as healthy eating is concerned.
Observe your family’s mealtimes and see if you need to work on some family related issues.
Coming to what happens if your child is not eating well….
If your child is breastfeeding, continue breastfeeding on demand and keep offering healthy, balanced complementary food options in a relaxed way and keep modelling healthy eating behavior, your child will slowly settle.
Trust your child’s ability to identify his/ her hunger and let them decide how much he/ she wants to eat. Your job is to provide healthy/ wholesome food options.
If you force them right now, they might rebel once they are able to run away from you and also are prone to develop unhealthy eating patterns in future.
If your child is bottle fed / animal milk fed, work on gradually decreasing the milk intake and offer healthy / wholesome food options in a relaxed environment and of course modelling healthy eating behaviour, your child will soon start settling.
Consult your Paediatrician and ask for an appropriate referral :
#If inspite of following the above general measures your child is not settling
# the child has some difficulty eating/ swallowing
#frequently chokes or gags
# has challenges with particular type / textures of food
# Not eating well for a few days will not do much harm, but if you force / coax/ punish/ bribe / scold etc….these will cause long term challenges . More struggle for you in coming days and eating disorders for your child in future.
# Contrary to popular belief, your child does not need foods high in sugars and fats, they need Nutrient rich food, ie foods containing all sorts of nutrients (Vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, carbohydrates etc).
So think in terms of balanced meal while preparing food for your child.
# Processed foods are not good for any of us, the so called “health drinks/powders” come under the category of Ultra Processed foods and thus do more harm than benefit.
Author, Dr Shacchee is a Certified Infant Feeding & Young Child Feeding Specialist. Join her on monthly online Workshop for parents for more detailed knowledge on feeding and nutrition in children. CLICK here to book your session