What if a baby won’t eat enough?
Here are 8 possible reasons and how to deal with them.
A baby not eating as much as before is quite a worry, and the mom asking about it here is certainly not alone.
My 4-month-old baby won’t eat all of a sudden!
He used to eat 5 oz every 3-4 hours, but the last week my baby will only eat 2-3 oz, and he is really restless during the feeding.
He moves his head away from the bottle and cries after 2 oz. I am worried about him losing weight. He is happy and smiles a lot but never seems hungry.
Easy Baby Life:
4-Month-Old Baby Won’t Eat – Possible Reasons & When To Worry
I can totally relate to your worrying! I don’t know how many times I scheduled appointments with my babies’ health nurses to check their weight development since they suddenly didn’t eat anything. Usually, they followed their curves, and if they didn’t, they either got sick, or they started eating again a couple of days later.
Let’s look at the normal feeding patterns of a 4-month-old baby, what might be the reason for his reduced appetite, and when it is time to be concerned!
In this article…
Normal feeding patterns of a 4-month-old baby
First of all, if your baby is happy and smiling and wet his diapers, this is a very good sign, and he is likely to be fine.
What’s special about 4-month-old babies is that their growth rate is finally slowing down. Until babies are around 3 months old, they grow incredibly fast, but this then calms down.
Babies’ appetites vary a lot; they have growth spurts when all they want to do is eat, and then they have other periods when eating isn’t very interesting.
It is, therefore, very possible that your baby refuses to eat very much because he is simply not very hungry!
This is normal and healthy behavior, and something, of course, to be respected.
So, how much does a 4-month-old baby usually eat?
The average for a fully breastfed or formula-fed 4-month-old baby would be to eat some 4-6 oz every 3-4 hours. But again, this is an average over both babies and time periods. It is completely normal that a baby’s appetite varies over time!
How the baby develops, if he is thriving, has energy, and is wetting his diapers are more important clues than the exact oz of formula or breastmilk.
8 Possible reasons why a 4-month-old won’t eat
1. Teething Pain
One possibility, even if it is quite early, is teething. Check your baby’s mouth for signs of inflamed gums or erupting teeth, and read about teething symptoms here.
Teething can be quite painful, and babies commonly don’t want to eat as much while the teeth erupt.
2. A Sore Throat or an Ear Infection
If your baby has a sore throat, an ear infection, or a stopped-up nose, he is also likely to not want to eat very much. If the swallowing is painful or the breathing is difficult while feeding, no wonder he won’t eat more than 2-3 oz.
You can try saline drops in his nose before feeding and feed him in a more upright position to see if it helps.
And, of course, try to check his throat and ears or have him examined by a doctor.
If your baby pulls away if you press your fingers towards his skin just in front of or below his earlobes, it could indicate an ear infection. Other signs are a cranky baby, fever, or the baby touching the ear or waving his hand close to his ear a lot.
But the best is, of course, to visit a doctor for an examination.
3. Tummy Bug
If your baby has, just had, or is about to get sick from a stomach bug, he might be nauseated and won’t eat very much.
In this case, keeping the baby hydrated is the most important! The appetite will come back when the baby is well again.
4. Acid Reflux
One would think that acid reflux would already be known when a baby is 4 months old. And while that’s true in most cases, for babies with a relatively mild version of acid reflux, this may not be the case.
Acid reflux tends to peak at around 4-5 months of age, so when a 4-month-old baby won’t eat, it is actually possible that this is the reason that your baby is not eating very much.
While frequent spitting up is one of the most known symptoms of acid reflux, babies with silent reflux may not spit up. Instead, for example, feeding problems are common.
If you’ve ever been constipated, you might remember how much that can affect your appetite. Many babies are introduced to formula, cereal, or solid foods at around 4 months of age, and it is very common for them to then become constipated.
If your baby is constipated, work to mitigate that, and his appetite will likely come back!
In addition to cutting down on rice cereal and any other foods or formula that can make a baby constipated, you can try warm baths, lots of activity, and baby massage.
The video here below gives an excellent explanation of how to use baby massage for constipation.
6. Food intolerance or Allergy
Poor appetite can also be related to, for example, cow’s milk allergy or lactose intolerance – or of course, allergy to any other foods that you have introduced.
But a reduced appetite is not likely to be the only sign in such a case – you can read about more symptoms here.
7. Solid Food Introduction
Solids foods and rice cereal are more filling than breast milk and formula. Hence, if you have introduced any of this to your baby, it is completely natural that he is less hungry.
Some babies also quickly prefer solid foods and can start refusing the breast or bottle.
This is not ideal at this young age since breast milk or formula should be their main source of nutrition during the full first year.
If you think this is what’s happening, make sure you add a large share of breast milk or formula to any solid foods you serve and continue to offer breastfeeding or formula to your baby, but without creating a power struggle.
Also, if your baby is about to get ill, he will most likely have a period later on when he compensates for the weight loss.
8. The Feeding Situation
Sometimes, the feeding situation in itself can become a problem. When our baby refuses to eat, we get worried. That’s completely natural. But, our stress can be felt by the baby, who might associate this bad feeling with feeding. Hence, we suddenly end up reinforcing the refusal to eat!
A difficult situation!
If you think this may be the case, do everything you can to break it. Take a deep breath and let go of any negative feelings before you try to feed your baby. Make the feeding fun and cozy, and maybe try changing the feeding position, the bottle nipple, the surroundings, or even the person feeding your baby for a while!
When to Worry and Call the Doctor
When to actually worry if a baby is not eating is:
- The baby does not wet his or her diapers or shows other signs of dehydration. You can find signs of dehydration in this post.
- Baby loses weight over a time period. Some babies can lose a bit of weight at around 4-6 months when solid foods are introduced, but it should be only a short period. Some babies also lose a bit of weight when they start moving around. The long-term trend should, however, definitely be up.
- If the baby is not eating and this behavior is combined with being cranky and without energy. This could mean the baby is either ill or weak from eating too little.
- The baby shows other signs of pain or illness.
In these cases, you should call the doctor immediately.
To conclude – Based on how you describe the situation, I wouldn’t worry too much. But do go ahead and schedule a checkup to keep track of his weight. And, of course, continue to watch for signs of illness and dehydration.
Remember that what NOT to do is to try to force your baby to eat. The tension and bad experience for both of you can easily become a problem of its own, and suddenly, your baby won’t eat because feeding is associated with bad feelings.
I hope this helps,
More Babies That Won’t Eat
- Signs Of Dehydration When Sick Baby Not Eating
- 4 Month Baby Stopped Eating And Drinking
- 5.5 Month Baby Won’t Eat
Who else’s 4-month-old baby won’t eat? Share your worries or tips by commenting below!
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing is based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians that you find here. They write or review all health-related articles.