For those of us with babies that are starting solids or toddlers that are just being toddlers, is it just fussy eating or is it something else?
It’s a question that you will ask yourself over and over again.
The good thing is, it is a normal stage of development. However, there may be some instances when it is unfortunately something else.
I am a mother of 14-month-old twins and they are completely different when it comes to eating. As babies, Twin A would vomit every single feeding time; whereas Twin B would guzzle a bottle and not even need to be burped. When we moved on to solids, Twin A would gag at the mere sight of food; whereas Twin B would scoff their food down like there was no tomorrow.
I would look at these different eating behaviours and ask myself: Is this normal? Is there something wrong with Twin A or is Twin B just exceptionally good? I would ask everyone “What does your child do?” and I would get a million and one different answers.
Tears of frustration would flow when Twin A refused food or would only eat one or two mouthfuls. Finally, I took my baby to a paediatrician, where we received a diagnosis of reflux. Twin A was deemed a ‘happy chucker’ and would grow out of it once the sphincter in their stomach grew stronger. Thankfully, meal time is getting easier, but it is still something that is a bit of a struggle.
Dealing with fussy eating
First and foremost: try and remain calm. Easier said then done, right? But this is a very important step. The second thing is to try and have some patience. Meal times are going to continue to be a struggle for both of you if you are trying to rush your baby through it or constantly try to force food on them. Sit back and let your baby take it at their own pace. A baby’s world is all about exploring, and eating is a very big part of that. They will want to experiment with different textures and tastes. Food refusal is also a very a significant factor in this. Babies are genetically programmed to refuse food that is new to them. It is an inbuilt mechanism left over from caveman days as a way of preventing poisoning. You may need to offer your baby a particular type of food ten, 20, even 50 times before they come to know it.
If your baby likes to play with their food, set enough time to accommodate this – even if it means that you are sitting down with them for an hour or more. As they grow more confident, then this time will become shorter. You may also need to provide your baby with a distraction. Give them something to play with. Singing and clapping hands also helps. Whatever works right?
If your baby will only eat pureed foods, they may have difficulties with the physical mechanisms of chewing and swallowing. They need time to develop this skill so take it back to basic purees; then very gradually, increase the lumpiness of the food. If after a period of time, there are still issues, you may need to consult a doctor.
When rejections mean something more…
According to Jeanette Bradley, a leading food allergies expert, rejections of certain types of food may indicate food sensitivity. She states that “children do not have the reasoning skills necessary to figure out the cause of their tummy discomfort”. Their avoidance of a particular food may mean that they have associated it with causing them pain. For example, “their aversion to broccoli may be because they are always served broccoli with cheese on it, and really they are lactose intolerant”. When introducing new foods, do so one food at a time. Try not to mix it with another new food. That way, it will make it easier for you to identify the culprit if your baby does have a sensitivity to a particular food.
It is very common for a toddler to have a preference for one or two foods. They can go days, even weeks, only wanting to eat a particular food. Usually, they come around themselves and start to try new foods again. In the meantime, a trick I learnt is to hide either meat and/or vegetables within the particular food they want. My twins went through a stage where all they wanted to eat was ravioli. I made sure that they were getting some meat and vegetables by making up a chicken and vegetable puree and mixing it over the pasta. They were happy that they were getting their ravioli, and I was happy that they were getting more then just pasta. It is always good to have a ‘fail-safe’ food in the fridge or freezer. This way, if your baby or toddler decides to be fussy on a given day, you know that they will eat something.
Disorders And Diagnoses
Worst case scenario, your baby may have Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (also known as Selective Eating Disorder), an eating disorder that prevents the consumption of certain foods. Children with ARFID have an inability to eat certain foods based on texture, smell or even colour. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) some may only like very hot or very cold foods, very crunchy or hard-to-chew foods, or very soft foods, or avoid sauces.
The good thing is, most children with ARFID grow out of it. If you suspect that your little one is more then just a fussy eater, then see your doctor. They can provide you with further advice or a referral to an occupational therapist who can give you extra techniques and support.
At the end of the day, remember that a bit of fussy eating it completely normal. Your baby will not let themselves starve. They will have days where their appetite is only small and days were they appear ravenous. Take each day as it comes and continue to have faith in yourself.