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What to Do When Your Child Won’t Eat . . .

toddler birthday cakeYou never realize how much of life revolves around food and eating until you have a child with a feeding disorder. And then, eating becomes your ENTIRE world. Discussions about breastfeeding, toddlers with messy faces, or the sight of a couple kiddos eating some fruit slices at a play date can bring you to tears and leave you frustrated, angry, and jealous. Why won’t my child eat? Will she ever learn to like eating? Do THOSE moms know how lucky they are?

In the last two and a half years, we have been through a number of scary situations related to our daughter Avery, but Toddler feeding disorderher feeding challenges have been and continue to be some of the hardest. Maybe because it seems like it’s such a basic thing. Everyone knows how to eat, right?

Well, it’s not basic. According to one specific feeding therapy method we’ve used, there are more than 30 steps to eating. THIRTY! And contrary to what most people think, if a child’s feeding disorder or eating aversion is strong enough, he or she will actually starve instead of making the “choice” to eat. So much for being basic, huh?

Due to an extremely early start to life (Avery was born 3.5 months early) and severe reflux that taught her that eating hurts, Avery doesn’t like to eat. Before leaving the NICU, she had a feeding tube placed in her stomach so that we are able to feed her directly through there. Our case is obviously extreme, but I’ve met SO many moms out there whose kids have varying degrees of feeding disorders or aversions. I never knew what a common thing it was until we entered the world of feeding tubes and feeding therapy.

Diagnosing and Treating the Problem

The good news is that there are many specialists and feeding therapists out there who can help. We live in an area filled with them! Various tests can be run to determine whether there’s a physical reason for your child not being able to eat. For example, is it reflux? Is there something preventing your child from being able to physically swallow? Does your child’s stomach not empty like it should so she never feels hungry? Is it a sensory issue related to certain textures, sights, or smells? Or, is it a behavioral issue? In our case, it’s a combination of several issues.

I Love Food!

One reason this is such a struggle for me is that I LOVE food and come from a foodie family. I eat one meal and immediately start thinking about the next. I love trying new restaurants, and there’s hardly a type of food I won’t eat. But, as my mom often reminds me, I wasn’t always this adventurous, so I’m still hopeful. There’s nothing I want more than to share my love of food with Avery.

As a mom, one of your first and most important roles is to provide food for your child. And so it seems natural to feel like somewhat of a failure when your child won’t eat. For now, I’ve had to adjust my way of thinking and remember that no matter how Avery receives her food, I am still providing that for her. It’s just not how I imagined.

So, to all you mommas out there going through something similar, I’m with you. I understand. You are not alone. And if you feel compelled, I’d love to hear from you. We’re all in this together, right?!?

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5 Responses to What to Do When Your Child Won’t Eat . . .

  1. Alison January 23, 2017 at 10:36 pm #

    We joyfully we welcomed our third, a “perfect” (I’ll never forget the doctor saying that) baby girl. Then 5 weeks later, a driver ran a red light and sent her to the ICU for a month. Among other disabilities related to her TBI, she’s struggled to swallow and now has a g-tube. With our other two food was fun, not a frustration. I took for granted that they’d eat purées, then Cheerios when their chubby fingers mastered the pincer. With her first birthday approaching, I can’t expect her to eat cake. I can’t even expect her to sit to smash it. Feeding is one of the many things that I want to tell other parents to enjoy. Don’t take any of it for granted! Your babies – and the tiny, seemingly insignificant milestones they meet every day – are miracles! And our little miracle is still progressing too. Maybe someday she’ll eat cake. In the meantime, she’s teaching me to appreciate the small things more.

    • Kelly Wooley January 24, 2017 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Allison! I “feel” your pain – you can see the look on my daughter’s face when I tried to give her cake on her 1st and 2nd birthdays. It’s definitely all about celebrating the tiny milestones. Best wishes to you and your sweet daughter!

  2. Alison January 26, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks Kelly! It’s always helpful to know we’re not alone. 🙂 Best wishes to you and Avery too.

  3. Allison February 2, 2017 at 8:21 am #

    Praise God I found someone else who can relate! My daughter as 10 months old and I haven’t been able to find anyone who can relate to this massive struggle. Autumn has good days but they are rare. I never could have dreamed this would happen to us! Just as you said, I love food and am from a foodie family too. It’s crazy how something that’s supposed to be so natural and instinctive is so fowl and torturous to her. I pray every day for a miracle and that things would just click for her but that hasn’t happened just yet. Holding on to hope and thanking God that I’m not alone!

  4. Sue Khammar January 15, 2018 at 7:14 pm #

    Love this girl and her family!!! Slow and steady steps….you’re doing all the right things!!!

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