Refusing or Fighting Feeds - babies

Part 2 of Fussy Feeders

In the previous article I discussed some of the behavioural reasons behind fussy feeding. This month I would like to take a closer look at those children who are plainly not comfortable while eating or are literally starving themselves. These babies are often labelled ‘Failure to Thrive’ babies. They are babies and toddlers that are not gaining weight they should or are under weight. Having worked amongst many babies and toddlers who either fuss at the breast/bottle or are refusing or fussy with their solids I am often asked why these children have started to struggle and even refuse their feeds when clearly they have not eaten enough to sustain themselves. I hope this article will help sheds some light on this distressing occurrence as we take a closer look at a possible cause for this phenomena. Fussy feeders covers quite a large age range from newborns through to childhood and as previously mentioned can be due to various reasons including behavioural. If you have, for several days or even weeks, tried to encourage your baby/child to eat and they are clearly not interested or not comfortable to continue feeding and, you are sure it is not behavioural as your baby looks quite uncomfortable or is becoming distressed, then you may need to take a closer look to decide if there is possibly another more sinister cause. It is this more sinister cause I would like to explore. As a mothercraft nurse I am often called out by distressed parents with children as young as 2 month who are fighting at the breast or bottle, refusing to drink or babies, toddlers and children who are struggling to enjoy their solids. Why is something that most of us as adults enjoy such an effort for some so young? So what is the one possible reason for both babies and toddlers to refuse or fuss at their feeds? Firstly you need to eliminate all possible behavioural causes. Then take a close look at the behaviour of the baby or child, are they distressed when it comes to mealtimes?

Feeding Issues

Unlike a sleep issue you will not have to think this one through. You will definitely see the signs of a baby fighting at the breast or a child who refuses to have more than a mouthful of food or possibly totally refuse to eat. Some of the symptoms may be:

  • Baby pulling of and crying after an initial quick gulping at the breast or bottle.

  • Fighting at the breast or bottle – baby is hungry but after a few sucks pulls away. This pattern may be repeated through the remainder of the feed. (don’t get these confused with an initial fast flow which will soon settle and the baby will continue to feel calmly)

  • You have begun to dread feed times.

  • Short frequent feeds often within an hour or two from the last feed.

  • Your baby/child has had only ½ their normal intake. This leads to -

  • Constantly offering your baby/child milk/food to encourage them to eat more.

  • Poor weight gain or under weight for their age.

  • Baby often has an irritable time during the day when they cluster feed.

  • Baby constantly looks hungry and feeds fast and furiously as if they haven’t fed in hours but the last feed was only 2 hours ago.

  • Sucky babies often those that depend on a dummy to sooth them.

  • A child who is a finicky, fussy feeder preferring purees to lumpy food. These children often fill up on milk or haven’t given up their bottle feeds during the night.

  • Children who have over sensitive gag reflux who seem to gag on anything that is not pureed.

If any of these circumstances describe your situation then you may have a baby who has Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). See our Article on Signs and Symptoms of Colic/Reflux.


During my years of assisting parents I have seen many babies who literally refuse their feeds even after only having 30-50 mls from the bottle or 5 -10 mins on the breast. These babies usually come off crying and refuse further attempts to get them to feed. This is very stressful for mums, bubs and dads. Many of these babies have had reflux for quite some time but because it has gone undiagnosed it is now quite severe causing so much distress that baby now associated the breast or the bottle with severe discomfort. There are some babies who have been diagnosed with reflux and may even be on medication, but the medication is not enough to prevent discomfort while feeding. Adjusting their medication will improve baby’s feeding so have a chat to your doctor. If the situation is ignored it usually becomes worse. In a very severe case a client’s baby was hospitalised for two weeks and the baby fed through a nasogastric feeding tube till the medication was working and baby gaining weight. This baby had not previously been picked up with oesophageal reflux. Before diagnosing your baby with reflux your doctor will usually:

  • check baby/child isn't sick.

  • check baby/child doesn’t have a temperature.

  • check baby/child doesn't have a ear or urine infection.

If you suspect your child may be suffering from reflux I suggest you have a chat with your doctor or paediatrician.

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#Eating #Behaviour #Development #Reflux #Formula #Breastfeeding #Health #Bottle

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All articles on this website have a copyright.  The use of any material must have permission from Cradle 2 Kindy Parenting Solutions.

Disclaimer: Articles on our website are for education purposes only.  Please consult with your doctor to make sure this information is right for your child.