Q&A: baby not eating during the day

Fran writes:

"This is kind of an odd question, but is it possible for a six-month-oldbaby to refuse food even if she's hungry? Lately I've been having a horrible time with my daughter Lulu. She refuses a bottle constantly, or else eats just a couple of ounces (she's bottlefed) and rejects the rest in favor of playtime on the floor. That would all be fine with me, she's in the 100th percentile for height and weight, so no health worries, and I don't want to force her to eat, even if that were possible. What drives me nuts is that 1) she's grumpy a lot of the time because she's hungry and won't eat (and yes, she's definitely hungry, because if I can somehow get her to eat, she cheers up immediately), and 2) she's started waking up at 2 and 5 am demanding food again, I think because she's not eating enough during the day. This is maddening because she was one of those kids who slept through the night early on, and we're having a hard time adjusting. I've tried giving her solids, tried watering down her formula for those middle of the night feedings, tried giving her just a pacifier or water, but nothing seems to work. She's just on the cusp of crawling, but I'm not sure that's the reason for her not eating; she seems bored by the bottle, and will only take it if I put her in weird places, like her exersaucer, or lying flat on her back in the middle of the living room. I'd like to think this is just a phase, but if it is, it's a very, very long one.

The pediatrician recommended not giving her a bottle when she cries in the middle of the night, lest she get used to it, but what can I do? The girl's obviously hungry. At the same time I definitely don't want her to get the idea that this is going to be a regular feature of nighttime. We are so tired that I'm not even sure what I'm asking here--but if you and the Moxites have any suggestions for any of this, we would be so, so grateful!"

And here I thought this was a problem that mostly affects breastfed babies. It just goes to show that one of my primary theories may be correct: Everyone's got the same problems, they just manifest themselves differently depending on your circumstances.

At any rate, this does seem to be a problem of this age and stage of development of babies. They get to this age and are just so excited by everything that's happening during the day that they don't want to stop and take the time to eat. It mean, who wants to waste time on milk when you could be looking at cool stuff? Or trying to crawl or scoot or roll? Only suckers waste time eating.

I also think that sometimes at this age babies are teething (either pre-teething or active teething) and that make them not feel like eating. So combine those two factors, and the kids may not eat much at all during the day.

Of course then they need the calories, so they eat at night while nothing exciting's happening, and while they're relaxed enough that the teething might not hurt so much.

So I would NOT try to cut out food at night, since I think the mechanism works the other way around, and that won't entice them to eat more during the day but will make both of you miserable without fixing the problem. Instead, I'd try to help them want to eat more during the day. The classic trick that most breastfeeding moms have tried (notice how I word that--it may or may not work) is to go into a dark, quiet, super-boring room when it's time to eat. Minimize distractions as much as possible, and hope that that lets the baby focus on eating.

You can also try to feed the baby right as soon as she's coming out of a nap, since kids seem to be more likely to eat while drowsy, before they remember that there's all that exciting stuff going on. As many calories as you can sneak in during the day will help with nighttime.

You can also try to alleviate some of the teething symptoms by giving the homeopathic teething tablets (either Hyland's Teething Tablet--they contain lactose--or Humphrey's #3 formula--they contain sugar but not lactose). The pills  are small and will dissolve easily in a baby's mouth and have such teeny tiny concentrations of active ingredient that there's debate over whether they can do anything at all. I've been happy enough with them (even if it is a placebo affect) to use them for both my kids and give a bottle as a shower gift to my friends. A pill a few times a day should take the edge off just enough to help a teething baby more likely to eat.

The good news is that this is a time-specific problem. At a certain point the baby will become more interested in food again and less agog about the environment, and the days and nights will flip back in your favor.

Anyone remember this phase?