Picky Eating: Establishing the Feeding Relationship

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair



Babies come out of the womb with all they need to be successful feeders. In a perfect world this is true. However, things don’t always go as planned. Babies can have trouble feeding for a variety of reasons. Or perhaps a newborn doesn’t gain the desired amount of weight, or gains too much weight. The baby may be a sleepy feeder, slow feeder, fast feeder, or spitty feeder. They may be fussy, colicky, or have some other curious symptom. What, when, and how baby eats may be closely scrutinized. Doctors, caregivers, and parents become vigilant and anxious about feeding. This is often where picky eating begins.

From the beginning, the Division of Feeding Responsibility must be established and respected. Parents are in charge of what is fed and the manner in which baby is fed. Feedings should be calm and quiet, undistracted, attentive, and unrushed. Focus on your baby during this time, hold her close and look at her. Watch your baby during this time and learn to read his signals for hunger and satisfaction. Look for preferred positions and locations to feed. Does music or changes in lighting improve the quality or duration of the feed? Avoid rushing the feed, over-stimulating the baby with movement or patting, or taking too many breaks to burp or wipe.

When baby is fed is up to the baby in the beginning, though some babies require waking to feed in the first days. Recognize and respect baby’s hunger cues since babies who have their needs met quickly cry less. Early hunger cues include rooting (turning head and opening mouth), nuzzling, lip smacking, and sucking hands. Late hunger cues include squirming, fussing, and crying. It is best to feed baby before late hunger cues are exhibited.

Baby is in charge of how much and whether to eat at all. Watch for signs your baby has had enough. Signs of satisfaction or fullness include relaxed hands and body, possibly sleeping, unlatching from nipple (though not necessarily). A baby who is showing signs of satiety should be held away from mom’s warm body, burped, and offered the nipple again. If baby closes his lips, turns away, or falls back to sleep, the feeding is done. It’s important to not attempt to top baby off once baby has shown signs of satiety. Watching for and respecting baby’s satiety will help you and baby learn about the amount of food that is right for your baby.

As solids start in the first year, parents take the lead in scheduling meals and snacks. Baby is still in charge of how much they eat. Starting solids goes best when parents approach this with playful attention. Allow baby to use their hands, and practice and play with utensils. Let them explore the colors and flavors, encouraging their excitement. Allow and expect a mess. Don’t react to funny faces, rejected foods, or even gagging. These are all normal parts of the process. Allow older babies to mash and play with textures. Be there with your baby, enjoying your food as they are exploring theirs. The amount they get in is unimportant since their primary source of nutrition remains breast milk or formula. Abandon the thought that you must make them eat healthy foods. Offer a variety of foods that are part of a healthful diet, and let them decide how much or whether to eat them.

This stage of feeding is time-consuming. It can be especially difficult for mothers with older children since the time to dedicate to feeding can be intrusive. But this is the time to establish a healthy feeding relationship with your baby.


Read Part 1 of Jennifer Yoon’s ongoing series on Picky Eating here. 


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer on The PediaBlog here.