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The Hunger Mind Games

Jun29

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesI have breastfed my daughter since she was born. Until about five months old she would drink from a bottle if needed. We started a few basic foods – cereal, etc.  Then she went on strike.  Now she is nine months old and will.not.eat. At all.  She likes milk from the boob and that is it. We even tried me leaving for about 8 hours and she had plenty of options (baby food, bottles, sippy cups). Instead she screamed until she threw up. Repeatedly. She refused to have anything and it took forever to calm her down when I got home. Any suggestions other than “keep offering her foods and watch as even the sight or smell of anything resembling edible stuff makes her gag, choke, and puke on us?” How long can a phase like this last?  If it helps, my husband and I both work from home so we have some flexibility in this.

Thanks so much!

So I’m guessing a two-part concern is what prompted you to submit this question: Concern #1: Is my baby getting enough nutrition without solid foods, and Concern #2: OH MY GOD MAMA NEEDS A DAMN BREAK, PLEASE EAT SOMETHING ELSE.

Let me get concern #1 out of the way first, because frankly, it’s the easier one. Please don’t worry that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat or that she NEEDS to be eating solids by this point in order to gain the right amount of weight or develop properly or anything like that. Before 12 months, breastmilk really is enough, and solids are for “practice” or “fun.” As long your pediatrician isn’t expressing concerns about her weight, her milk-from-the-boob-only preference is not a problem. (And it isn’t even that unusual at her age, really.) An infants’ multivitamin is a good idea, if she’s not already on one (exclusively breastfed infants can become deficient in Vitamin D), and make sure YOU’RE getting proper nutrition from a well-balanced diet and prenatal vitamins.

End the blah-blah-nutritional-talky-speak. Onto concern #2, which is that you probably (and completely understandably) would like to NOT be your daughter’s sole source of food and calories and nutrition and all that. But…unfortunately I’m gonna have to say that your daughter is fully in charge here, and I’d suggest tabling the whole bottle/solids thing for the most part, for now. Take a deep breath and embrace the baby-led weaning — she won’t starve to death in the meantime, and nobody wants a hysterical, vomiting baby all because of some pureed yams, you know? She just…doesn’t sound ready yet. She will be, someday. Maybe next month, or the month after that. Or tomorrow! But you cannot “make” her be ready before she’s ready, even if all the parenting books and email newsletters are all talking about solid foods as if they are a “given” by now.

Let her lead the way and wait until SHE starts expressing an interest, and don’t try to force anything, because she’s clearly made up her mind. Again, FOR NOW. (Babies are notoriously fickle, and sometimes will surprise you by doing the exact thing you were just worried they would never, ever do, usually right after you’ve, say, penned a long and slightly hysterical blog entry about how worried you were.) Remember the thing about solids being “fun” before 12 months old? Your daughter obviously isn’t having any fun. And I’m guessing you and your husband aren’t, either.

So at mealtimes, nurse her beforehand — you’ll be more likely to have success with solids if your daughter ISN’T ragingly hungry or upset, and if foods and sippy cups are presented as interesting “extras” after she’s had the boob. Then go ahead and put her in her high chair while you and your husband sit down to eat, but…ditch the jars of purees and other baby-specific foods and give her some toys or plastic dinnerware/utensils instead. If she seems happy and calm and appears to be watching you eat with any sort of interest, give her something right off your plate, preferably something she can pick up herself instead of you having to spoon it in. Just set it on the tray, without comment.

Do not — DO NOT — try to force her to taste anything, either from a spoon or otherwise. If she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t eat. But let it be her choice and her option to pick up food and taste it, and don’t let her sense that you’re stressed about it and don’t go rushing into the kitchen 17 times a meal in search of other food options if she rejects everything or scream and cheer if she does actually stick a macaroni noodle or bite of meatball in her mouth. It’s your job to put the food in front of her. It’s her job to eat it. (The credo of Ellyn Satter’s fantastic How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much. Essential reading for every parent on earth!)

I wish I had similar practical advice re: getting a breastfed baby to accept a bottle or cup, but I admit that I’ve so far been REALLY fortunate and had babies who all went easily from boob to bottle and then bottle to cup from practically day one with very little drama. (Ezra required a bit of experimentation with a bunch of different bottles at one point, but it turned out to be a short-lived phase…which ended almost IMMEDIATELY after I purchased a bunch of new and very expensive boob-shaped bottles and he suddenly went from being incredibly picky to drinking out of just about any damn thing with a nipple you shoved at him.) But I’m hoping the comments section will be able to plug that hole in my knowledge and offer you some tips about how to get her to accept pumped milk in a bottle and possibly get the chance to OCCASIONALLY LEAVE THE HOUSE without the fear of your baby going on a hunger strike in the meantime.

Some babies just don’t ever take to bottles, unfortunately, but try not to let your frustration over that bleed into the WHY WON’T SHE EAT RICE CEREAL ARRRRGHHHH situation. Yes, it’s a pain, but you’re simply gonna have to figure out how to out-zen your baby in this case and not let her sense your frustration. Food-related frustrations have defeated many, many parents before you, and we’ve all found ourselves unwittingly locked in a battle of wills that WE WILL NEVER WIN with our babies, toddlers and big kids. I’m sorry you’re getting a head start on it, but look at it this way: By the time she’s two-and-a-half and decides randomly that she wants to eat nothing in the world except bananas and cupcake frosting*, you’ll be totally ready for it, and will be able to shake it off with a shrug and an eyeroll.

*EZRA!!!!! *shakes fist*

(One last thing: I feel weird mentioning this, because I don’t want to suddenly sound like I’m changing directions and making you worry after I just went on and on about how NORMAL your daughter’s behavior is…but do go ahead and mention how “the sight or smell of anything resembling edible stuff makes her gag, choke, and puke” to your pediatrician. Since she’s been such a successful nurser, I’m hesitant to even put the possibility of oral motor problems out there and I really do think this is more of a case of “she’s not ready and you guys are maybe forcing the issue too much, so back off and her stress level about foods will normalize on its own.” But! If she really does seem to be having physical, actual problems swallowing or tolerating textures, your pediatrician might recommend having an evaluation done with a feeding specialist or occupational therapist or something.)

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Amalah has returned from maternity leave so if there is a question you would like answered by her on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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20 Responses to “The Hunger Mind Games”

  1. Carmen Jun 29 at 6:46 pm Reply Reply

    Both of my kids did the exact same thing. I introduced solids at 6 months, both ate happily for about a week, then BLAM. They would scream the place down at the sight of a baby spoon. I just gave up and they went back to exclusively nursing (neither one would take a bottle).

    My oldest never did eat anything pureed off of a spoon. He eventually, around 9 months, started to be interested in solids again, but ONLY if they were things he could pick up himself. Cheerios, little cheesy toast squares, steamed apples/pears cut into little cubes, etc. Around 11 months he would let me sometimes feed him some yogurt, but only if he were really hungry and his own flailings with the spoon didn’t get the food shovelled in there fast enough. I had made tons of homemade purees which I ended up using in risottos. 

    My youngest eventually went back to solids around 9 months…slowly. She started out slurping on dill pickles; a few days later, the juice from the bottom of a bowl of fruit salad; then the next day she chowed down on mashed potatoes with gravy. Then she would try most things, whether I fed them to her or not.

    I can remember the frustration of not knowing why he wouldn’t eat (at least the 2nd time around, I knew she’d eventually start eating). I empathize mightily and hope that she will start soon. My advice, if it’s worth anything, is to give up on the purees and just let her try finger foods. Maybe that’s all it is!  Good luck.

  2. Sara Jun 29 at 10:13 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve been there too – also combined with a baby that wasn’t gaining weight properly. It was so frustrating to watch how angry she got at the purees. We tried everything from homemade purees, organic jarred, plain old applesauce, mashed up bananas. She hated it all. Then one day, while having lunch with my mom, I had my daughter sitting on my lap (she was about, oh, 8 mos old at this time?) and she LUNGED towards my cobb salad. She was hungry and she wanted to eat what I was eating. From that point forward, we just fed her from our plates. Once she started eating again, everything fell back into place, she started to take purees more readily, was less of a little anger-ball during every meal time etc etc etc.

    It was a hard time though (combined, for us, a switch from bf’ing to bottles as per dr’s orders – I think she may also have been picking up on my “must gain weight NOW” emotions). I completely empathize and hope you find a solution you feel good about soon. Good luck!

  3. I’m not an expert with babies so I’m glad to read something like this for future reference.

  4. Hanna Jun 29 at 11:52 pm Reply Reply

    Another suggestion would be that once she’ll tolerate the sight/smell of food on her tray, start showing her how to do messy play with the food. Start with little bloops. (Basically, systematic desensitization). Look, yogurt is great for smearing! Look how we can get it on our fingers and smear it around! You can smear it too! If she freaks about getting her hands messy, give her a little washcloth to help wipe her hands clean. (Ha, this could be bad advice if she’s sensory and hates wet mushy foods! In that case please disregard!). She may eventually want to explore it with her mouth! Amy is right though, force feeding is never a good idea. Good luck!

  5. Jeannie Jun 30 at 12:02 am Reply Reply

    My LO is now 14 months and up until she was 11.5 months she would put NOTHING in her mouth other than me. NOTHING. No bottle, pacifier, food, purée, nothing. The girl could choke on her own fingers. On the plus side she never ate her big brothers legos. On the minus side, she nursed A LOT. And we were constant companions.

    I wasn’t too worried until a year, when her complete lack of oral motor skills had us to the specialist pediatrician and the infant development people. Who said, at first, let’s wait it out. A month later they said, let’s run some tests and get some therapy. A week after that she started eating and now eats everything we will give her.

    So: she’ll likely start up on her own. As the other readers note, this isn’t uncommon. Alas I don’t have advice about getting your LO to take a bottle, sorry. I hope it goes well!

  6. Olivia Jun 30 at 8:49 am Reply Reply

    As usual, Amy is spot on. You can’t make a baby eat, sleep or poop. Try to take time for yourself between nursing sessions, and remember this won’t last forever.

  7. Amy B Jun 30 at 11:00 am Reply Reply

    Can I just say, THANK HEAVENS FOR THE SENDER-INER OF THIS QUESTION!!! Because I am facing a similar situation with my 9 month old son, and have been feeling a great deal of worry and angst and FREAK OUT about it.

    I first attempted to give him solids – rice cereal and fruit purees – at 6 months. Thus began 2 months of screaming, crying, gagging etc. (I didn’t torture him on a daily basis, we would just try out some food every 2-3 days or so, to see if he had changed his mind.) Finally, at 8 months he got the hang of soft foods, and now he eats purees and yogurt like a champ. But even the tiniest bit of a solid chunk of food in his mouth makes him throw up. And he doesn’t initiate feeding himself because he doesn’t put much of anything in his mouth, except for his pacifier.

    Also, about 3 weeks ago he went on a bottle strike. No breast milk, no formula, nothing. He WILL NOT take a bottle. And he also has no interest in sippy cups and normal cups, we have tried several. And I work outside the home, so this has been….stressful.

    Blah blah, all this to say, it makes me feel worlds better just to know that other babies have come through this perfectly fine, and I just need to chill the heck out.

  8. yasmara Jun 30 at 11:08 am Reply Reply

    This is sort of tangental, but my 2nd son would not take a bottle. Would. Not. As Olivia said, it’s one of those things you just can’t force.

    Luckily, my mom watched him at home when I first went back to work and then later we cobbled together a cluster feeding session in the early a.m., daycare during the day (no eating). cluster feeding in the afternoon, & co-sleeping with nighttime nursing. Basically, he took all his calories from me & didn’t eat at all during the day. It was soooo stressful (the lack of sleep didn’t help for me), but we tried to be as zen as possible about it because he was gaining weight well & seemed pretty happy. just not ever going to take the bottle not ever stop trying stupid people (ha!).

    Eventually around 6 months he started eating rice cereal, mashed bananas, etc. & loved them. It was a huge weight off my mind that when he was at daycare he would at least eat food, even if he wouldn’t drink anything. He like sippy cups too, so we switched to those with formula, since my pumping supply had dropped significantly.

    Anyway, hang in there, it seems like a lot of kids go through weird feeding issues & you just have to wait it out!

  9. Kim Jun 30 at 12:02 pm Reply Reply

    I scoffed at BLW until my second daughter starting crying at every meal. I handed her a chunk of banana just before the 7mo mark, and she went to town. We’ve never looked back. She has never choked on anything, and only gags when she overstuffs her mouth. She just needed to be in control of what she ate. I’d put a grape in her mouth, she’d spit it out, pick it up off my hand and eat it. Control. http://www.babyledweaning.com/forum/index.php was by far the most helpful site I found. Can’t help you with the bottle thing, but I’m a strong advocate for BLW. Wouldn’t do it any other way, now.

  10. Bridget Jun 30 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    I really didn’t know anything about BLW when I had my son. I did know that he refused purees. My sister told me to try puffs, and we did, then I sat in my pediatrician’s office with tiny chopped up pieces of food and my ped and I watched him happily pick them up and eat them. She agreed that he was fine to do his solids that way and we just gave up on purees. He was 7 months at the time. I hope it works out for you and you get a much-deserved break!

  11. Carrie Jun 30 at 1:59 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter didn’t really take to solids until she was 12 months, and even now at 14 months is VERY picky. She will not let me spoon feed her anything and will only eat things she can be in total control of.

    I just wanted to mention that you might really want to work on that multi-vitamin if at all possible. I didn’t worry about a vitamin b/c I was of the opinion that breastfed babies got everything they need. Go, booby-milk, go!

    Well, my daughter turned out to be severely anemic at her 1 year check-up and getting iron drops down her has been a nightmare. Not to mention the blood draws.

  12. Hannah Jun 30 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    We had to start our LO on solids at 4 months, because she would. not. poop. The only way to get her to do so was to give her a glycerine suppository. This was not good, so we were really pro-active on the solids. She really hated rice cereal and that sort of thing (I think it was too bland for her), but liked yogurt and fruit purees. If your LO won’t eat those sorts of things, give her finger food on her tray, or bits of food off your plate, and sit down all together. If she doesn’t eat, don’t worry about it – she’ll get curious when she sees you eating and will eventually try solids. Does she have teeth? if she does, you can get more adventurous – try interesting textures (jicama, coconut) and spices (curry, cilantro, spices, cinnamon) and see if any of it tempts her. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. She’ll eat eventually. And then she’ll find some other way to drive you crazy.

  13. Bear Jun 30 at 10:48 pm Reply Reply

    Our little dude refused all mush. Wouldn’t have it. No cereal, no purees (homemade, delicately spiced, organic purees made of morally superior organic fruits and vegetables, I’ll have you know). Nothing doing. So we went on with the milk. At seven months he climbed up into my husband’s lap, grabbed the pice of pizza out of his hand, and started gnawing it (he got teeth very early). Oh, okay. Real food only. Check. Small pieces of whatever we were eating, totally great – yummed it right up.

    At 17 months, he’s a fantastic eater, eats everything and loves food. Phew.

  14. JenVegas Jul 01 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    My LO was only eating apple sauce for what felt like a loooong time & my husband and I were worried about him not getting enough protein because he flat our refused our attempts at pureed meat or beans etc. Once night we ordered in Chinese food and, as a lark, I offered LO some of the inside of my steamed, pork dumpling and he loved it. Ate like half of it. Now he eats all sorts of weird things. Beef Chow Fun, tacos, guacamole…. I have to say, reading Matthew Amster-Burton’s book Hungry Monkey was very helpful as it gave me the courage to offer my kid food beyond the standard baby puree and he’s awfully happy now. And so are we!

  15. Victoria Jul 03 at 8:55 am Reply Reply

    Spice. Add to everything. My daughter was such a non-eater until she tried some ginger-garlic-parsnip soup, which we had made extra spicy to suit our winter tastes. Then she was all in – purees were never accepted unless mixed with chili powder, ginger, garlic, etc.

  16. Erika Jul 04 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

    a small thing, but: rice cereal is really, really gross. have you tried it? disgusting. we quickly switched to oatmeal (just ran it through the grinder first to make it more powdery) and it’s still his favorite food at 20 months. little things like this might help too when they get to feeling more experimental!

  17. Dina Rose Jul 05 at 12:35 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely have your baby evaluated to see if there are any swallowing issues.  If not, then take it easy.  Pediatricians usually try to pressure parents to get their kids to eat, but that is a strategy that almost always backfires.  Give your kids space, and don’t go looking for the “magic” food – it doesn’t exist.  In time it will work out.Dinawww.itsnotaboutnutrition.com

  18. Original Poster Jul 06 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    Original poster here. Weight was never an issue thankfully.  We pretty much had given up and were going with BLW. 

    At 9.5 months, she stole my husbands burrito from Chipolte and went to town on the rice. She still won’t do liquids from bottles/cups/etc. but she will eat food as long as it’s real (with seasonings).  Her current favorite is vegetable curry.

    And she now nurses every 4 hours instead of every 2, so my boobs are really happy.  

  19. Amy Jul 07 at 8:52 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter is 10.5 months old, and she has become increasingly difficult with eating purees. She is way happier if she can just eat whatever we eat in chunks, so that’s what we do now. Also, she wouldn’t take a bottle AT ALL for the longest time. My mom was watching her one night, and warmed a bottle of breastmilk to exactly 98.6 degrees (checked it with a clean meat thermometer.) That was all it took, and my daughter was totally happy with the bottle. Go figure! Kids can be so picky!

  20. bhn Jul 10 at 4:52 pm Reply Reply

    Oh this is SUCH TYPICAL 9 month old behaviour, OP! Amalah’s advice is spot on. Food before 1 is just for fun, and baby-led weaning rocks my world.

    At 9 months my son, who had been eating so nicely, started throwing and spitting food. It was a phase, it passed, and it will pass for your gal too.

    Good luck!

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