One year old won't eat and is losing weight

We have a young daughter who is now a year old. She is very small in size but already running around the house! She is very alert. My wife is concerned because she is refusing to eat at meal times. She screams when her bib is put on. She is beginning to lose weight and we would like to know what we can do?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

It is normal for a child's eating to drop off at about one year. This is because their growth rate has slowed down dramatically. This will effect your daughter's hunger and will impact the amount she eats. Therefore, do not expect her to eat much.

It is important to set snack and mealtimes, and to stick to those. This will help prevent any battles over when to eat. Plus, it better guarantees that your daughter will be hungry at mealtimes. Analyze your daughter's eating now an see if perhaps she is coming to mealtime NOT hungry because she has been allowed to snack or eat at will during the day. Constant access to juice and milk can be a real appetite killer. If your daughter refuses to eat at one time, you can rest assured that she will not starve before the next scheduled time to eat.

You will need to be sure no more than 3 to 4 hours do not elapse between meal and snack times. Children have small stomach and cannot eat a lot of food at one time. Make meal time and snack time a relaxing, stress free time for all. You determine what foods to serve and allow your daughter to eat as much or as little of those foods that she chooses. Of course you want to be sure and offer at least some foods that she likes.

Never force her to eat, and never use food as a reward or punishment. Do not punish her for not eating.

Help her stay tuned to her body's cues as to when she is hungry and when she is full. A relaxed feeding relationship is one of the most important parts to successful eating in your child. You have to be receptive to her leads.

I suggest you obtain and read a copy of Ellyn Satter's book, "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much". It has exactly the information and guidance you are looking for. It deals not so much with nutritional issues, but rather with behavioral issues related to feeding and eating in children. I find it invaluable.

How about letting your daughter pick out something else to put on before mealtime besides the bib? Maybe one of daddy's old tee shirts? or a big sister's old sweatshirt?, i.e. let her know she has to have something on to eat, but give her a choice and let her decide.

Allow her to participate in the feeding as much as possible. That means serving kid friendly foods that she can easily pick up with her fingers or get on her spoon. You may need to alter a little the table foods you are serving to suit her abilities. If you are having spaghetti, skip the long spaghetti noodles, and instead serve the sauce on small shells, or elbow noodles that she can pick up with her fingers. Be relaxed about her eating style, knowing that she is going to make a mess in her quest to learn how to feed herself.

If making some behavioral changes doesn't help to reverse her weight loss trend, you may need to look more closely to the foods she is eating. Make a point of serving calorically dense foods. Allow her to have fats, such as buttered muffins and toast. Peanut butter spread generously on crackers, whole milk, full fat yogurt, fattier cuts of ground beef, high quality ice cream, and homemade quick breads made with plenty of eggs and oil are all high fat/calorie foods that also provide lots of other good nutrients. They should help your daughter put on a little weight.

Your daughter is obviously enjoying the world around her and is very involved in it... running around the house and very alert. You may want to see how you are making her come to meal times. Do you all of a sudden interrupt an activity she is busily involved in? It may be she is screaming because she is not wanting to be disturbed from what she is doing. Try making a gentle transition to mealtime. Give her some warning that she will understand, or perhaps get her calmed down by sitting down and reading a book together. Maybe a ritual bath before dinner will get her relaxed and ready to eat. Also, make sure she is not overtired by the time she comes to meals. That can also interfere with her ability to eat as she should.

I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful. Also, read some of my previous notes on the web page. Many other parents have written with the same concerns. Perhaps you will find some helpful hints in those replies that may be of help.

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