What can cause a baby to lose appetite or suddenly be less hungry? In this article, we answer a mom who is worried about her 5-month-old baby who doesn’t want to eat as much as before.
My 5-month-old baby won’t eat as much as she used to. I’m only getting about 15-20 oz into her daily this week.
She shows typical signs of hunger but will only finish up to half of her formula before refusing the rest. I started her on 1 tsp of rice cereal two weeks ago. She seemed okay with it at the start but now refuses that as well.
She shows absolutely no signs of teething or illness. I’m afraid she’s not getting enough to sustain herself, but she’s generally happy otherwise and sleeping well. What should I do?
Tips When 5-Month-Old Baby Won’t Eat As Much As Before
How much food is too little?
It is worrying when your baby doesn’t seem to eat enough. However, babies go through growth spurts when they seem to eat all the time; then at other times, they seem to need very little.
If your daughter would be healthy and hungry, she would cry and show signs of wanting more to eat. Since she seems happy and healthy and, I assume, wets her diaper, she is probably getting enough food for now.
A rough guide to a baby’s milk needs is to multiply your baby’s weight by 2.5 oz, so a 13lb baby would drink roughly 32.5 oz in a 24-hour period. However, this can vary a lot depending on whether or not she is well, teething, about to do a growth spurt, and just normal variations too.
You don’t mention how much your baby’s weight is, but even if she weighs less than the average for her age, drinking 15-20 oz per 24 hours does seem quite low. How much did she use to drink before?
Usually, by six months, on average, babies have doubled their birth weight, but there are huge variations to this too.
If your little girl has been putting on weight gradually, a plateau is nothing to worry about. If you are worried, take her to your health nurse, but if she is happy and feeding until she has had enough, then I think you can trust she will let you know when she is hungry.
Who knows, you could be up half the night with extra feeds next week while she catches up!
My youngest was just like that. Some weeks he was breastfeeding around the clock, and other times he ate almost nothing. When he was a baby, he had me worried many times until I realized this was just his hunger pattern. I took him to his health nurse for weighing several times, and he was always fine. :-)
There is also some interesting research that indicates heritability in appetite. So if you or your daughter’s dad are slow eaters or generally not very hungry people, her appetite can also simply be due to genes.
The one sign to worry about in the short term is if she shows signs of dehydration. Immediately take her to a doctor for examination and advice in such a case.
Possible reasons why a 5-month-old baby won’t eat
Now, in addition to dehydration, which is something to look out for, you can try to find out if there are other reasons than a plateau for her lost appetite.
While teething, the pain and itching may lead to losing appetite. Both the tooth eruption and the inflamed gums can make feeding uncomfortable and painful. So do check her mouth for any signs of teething. You can find a number of teething remedies here.
You mentioned that you introduced rice cereal a couple of weeks ago. While filling, this can also lead to some degree of constipation. And constipation can make feeding uncomfortable, resulting in a loss of appetite.
So, if your daughter is at all constipated, stop feeding her rice cereal and see if it helps.
A sore throat or an ear infection
Sometimes a throat or ear infection is mild enough to go more or less unnoticed by the adult, but it can still be painful for the child. With a sore throat, the appetite can, of course, be affected. The same goes for an ear infection, which can make swallowing painful.
Check if your baby’s throat glands are swollen or if she jerks when you press them since that would indicate pain. Check her throat, too if possible. And, of course, take her to a doctor if she seems ill.
Too much other fluids
Since your baby is so young, I assume you don’t let her drink much water? Small amounts of water can be acceptable in really hot weather, but since your baby’s appetite is low, I’d recommend cutting out water entirely and only feeding her milk. Drinking a lot of fluids can, of course, affect a baby’s appetite. You can read here about why drinking water can be unsafe for young babies.
The feeding situation
Sometimes the feeding situation can be stressful for the baby. If you are very stressed due to poor feeding, your baby can feel it and lose even more of her appetite.
In the same way, if the feeding has turned into a power struggle between the two of you, this can certainly affect your baby’s willingness to eat.
In such a case, changing the feeding position, environment, or even the person feeding her can help.
Also, take a deep breath and try to eliminate any negative feelings regarding her eating before starting the feeding. Smile at her. Put on some soothing music or some TV show or whatever. And decide for yourself that you will not try to force your daughter to eat at all.
Healthy children do not starve themselves.
How to improve a baby’s appetite
In addition to, of course, making sure that your baby is not ill, teething, constipated, or generally stressed by the feeding situation, here are some things you can do to increase her appetite:
Play with her! Any activity, laughter, and movement will improve her appetite.
Go outside! Daylight and fresh air are great for the appetite and sleep quality. Take her to a playground or just for a walk or into the garden. If your back allows it, carry her upright, face out in a baby carrier for some time to let her discover the world.
Play around with feeding frequency and schedule. Some people are naturally less hungry in the mornings. Some in the evenings. For some reason, many young babies tend to be more hungry in the evenings.
Nothing stops you from offering the bottle frequently if you do all you can to avoid making the feeding stressful. A sip now and then in between meals can make a big difference in terms of the total amount of milk.
I hope this helps. Once again, don’t worry, but look for signs of illness and have your baby checked up if you are worried.
Who else has a baby that won’t eat? What did you do? :-)
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are 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 who assist in reviewing and writing articles.