Let’s talk about the mistakes concerning feeding baby and those situations when they lose their appetite and refuse to eat.
The first thing to blame, of course, is a wrong lifestyle — something we discussed in a previous article. Your child cannot change his lifestyle on his own; you, the parents, are those who have to make an effort (actually, a lot of them).
But what is a common picture that we see in reality? Parents do everything they can for their child NOT to spend any energy, and then get really upset about the fact their baby has no appetite. Like ostriches burying their heads in sand, they try to be blind to the obvious and assume three different ways of action: start looking for illnesses their baby might have, try to ease their conscience by force-feeding their child, using all means and tricks possible, and appeal to traditional standards.
So let’s try to find out whether all the parents’ anxieties about the child’s loss of appetite are justified, and what the best way is to act in such a situation.
Digging for illnesses that are not here
Let me repeat what has already been said before: sudden decrease in appetite or a child’s absolute refusal to eat occur only in case of violent, continuous and dangerous illnesses. And appetite loss is only one of the numerous symptoms. In case your child doesn’t complain, if your doctor can’t find any pathologies when examining your baby, if standard urine and blood tests show no changes — then there is absolutely no chance that you are dealing with some hidden insidious disease causing appetite loss.
Nevertheless, it is still very hard to realize the simple fact that loss of appetite can be attributed to “abnormalities” in a style of upbringing. More often than not it is like to admit that you are not a good parent. And what’s even harder is to cast a critical eye at your staid family values system and try to reconsider it and change it. To wake up early and do some exercises with your child. To have a nice walk before going to sleep instead of staying at home and watching another episode of your favorite soap opera. To spend your weekend outside, not being a couch potato.
This is extremely hard.
You don’t even want to do all that, do you? Oh no, nothing can possibly be wrong with you — your baby is the one who has problems. Let’s go and see a doctor asap!
— Doctor, he refuses to eat! He spits it all out. We talked him into eating yesterday, but he almost vomited.
— Well maybe he’s just not hungry?
— He’s never hungry! If we don’t suggest he should eat, he will NEVER ask! He’s probably sick. Very sick indeed.
The saddest things about all this are the following:
1. not every doctor is strong enough not to give in to parents’ persuasions and turn into their ally (or is it better to say “hostage”?) in a very rewarding (yes, that’s right — rewarding) process of seeking out illnesses and ailments;
2. every reasonable suggestion that parents should bring their lifestyle to normal and stop forcing their child into doing the things he doesn’t want to will most likely make the parents decide to look for another doctor rather than an attempt to fix their mistakes;
3. when there are no real health issues the chance that a doctor will find a serious hidden disease during examination is extremely small;
4. tests and examinations always help.
Trying to cure a disease is hard — but to detect it, with the modern level of medical care technologies, is a piece of cake. This way we get diagnoses, totally meaningless on one hand and on the other, they lead to thinking that the alleged illness is really there and give parents an opportunity to forget about the appetite loss problem and get focused on treatment.
The easiest way is to do the stool test: it’s swarming with bacteria (about 400 kinds of bacteria, as a matter of fact), number of some bacteria will definitely exceed some normal level set by medical standards and then you’ll find out that your child has some “awful dysbacteriosis”. You can also do the throat smear test: 80% of people have staph comfortably living there: looks like illness all right! If you do a liver ultrasound, and tell your doctor about the absolute absence of appetite beforehand, there’s a big chance biliary dyskinesia will be found… The list can go on and on, and believe me, it can satisfy even the most squeamish parents.
Well there is always an option not to try to look for anything. You can pay your attention to all the real ailments your beloved baby may have aplenty — allergies, chronic tonsillitis, adenoiditis, frequent colds and so on. The fact is there is no direct connection between any of these illnesses and appetite loss but there are lots of indirect ones. And how it can be otherwise — low physical activity, lack of fresh air and lots of intellectual activities don’t just decrease interest in food — they decrease general health level as well.
Force-feeding your baby
Feeding a baby at whatever cost is the most common way of solving appetite issues. The resourcefulness of parents who try to fight this issue has no limits and is really amazing. The strategic objective is to break down the resistance of the child who refuses to eat. Tactical approaches are incredibly varied:
— turn an eating process into a game: a spoon is a car and a baby’s mouth is a garage — wroom, let’s go;
— distract a child: read a book, watch a cartoon, listen to the granny singing or watch the granddad dancing;
— promise to award a baby for emptying his plate: to go for a walk, to buy a toy, to go to the circus on a weekend.
— intimidate a baby: if you don’t eat I won’t love you, your dad will punish you when he comes back from work.
I could go on like this endlessly; the number of options is huge.
Why does this sound so sad? Well, you see, appetite is not just a desire to eat; it is a reflection of the ability, the readiness of a child’s body to digest food at this certain moment. Appetite appears when there is sufficient amount of digestive juices, after liver and pancreas did their work properly and after small bowel freed itself of the most of the food it digested before. But it’s not there! The conclusion is obvious enough: the most of the food eaten without appetite will not be digested properly. So what we have here is a new vicious circle appearing: digestive system is overloaded with excessive food and parents keep feeding their baby and sighing over the loss of appetite. Let’s try to remember that some 100 years ago when there were no ultrasound tests, no one knew about dysbacteriosis and the only cure for all the digesting and appetite issues was castor oil — laxative, that is. The infamous castor oil helped bowels easy themselves, and this way made many appetite issues go away.
Sticking to traditional ways
Wrong understanding of the “traditional standard” term is the theoretical basis for both searching for illnesses and the urge to feed a baby at whatever cost. A child is active and happy, but books say that his weight should be 12 kilos, and he barely weighs 10!
“I’ve read somewhere that a child has to eat five times a day at this age and he can hardly manage 4 meals a day…”
“The sticker on a milk formula can says that meal volume is 180 ml, but he never eats more than 150.”
Yes, all of the above are quite real reasons for emotional stress and a lot of fuss.
You should know that what one calls “traditional standards” is designed for an average child. You can’t analyze and embrace abstract numbers as they are, without taking into account any specific characteristics of your child. Signs of health are quite obvious: normal physical and mental development, motor activity, mood, appetite. Yes, that’s right, appetite — but not based on book standards but on real needs, state of health and lifestyle of this certain child.
Another aspect is a traditional, conventional idea about normalcy or abnormalcy of a child. On one hand, your neighbors, friends, grannies and all the passers-by outside have their own opinion on what a well-fed and healthy child should look like. On the other hand, sadly, all those neighbors and acquaintances just can’t seem to keep their opinions to themselves and share them eagerly with anyone who would listen, including the child’s parents.
Phrases like “Oh he’s so thin, poor thing!” or “Don’t you feed him at all?” can not just make even the most reasonable parents doubt — they can make them act as soon as possible to feed the “poor” kid as well as they can.
This being said, the final decision is always up to you, dear parents. All cases are individual and you are the only ones who know your child and his needs best.