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My baby boy is almost a year old and most of the time doesn't want to eat his food. He occasionally has a good meal but most of the time just messes around, throwing food on the floor, spitting out food after hardly even taking a bite.

I have read several of the other answers about encouraging a child to eat which mostly suggest to let the child decide for itself and it will eat if its really hungry and to offer a variety of foods, particularly giving the opportunity to feed themselves finger foods for older babies. I already do the second part and my son does enjoy feeding himself when he's interested in eating but that doesn't happen very often. Sometimes he can be tricked into eating something that he otherwise refuses but this is not how I want him to learn to eat.

I would be happy to let him decide for himself whether he's hungry and I don't want to force him to eat and give him negative feelings towards food but my problem is that I know he's not eating enough as he keeps me awake most of the night wanting to drink milk. He is breastfed. I have tried settling him other ways than feeding but if he hasn't eaten well in the day he will wake three hours after going to bed and cry inconsolably until I give him milk. Then he wakes several more times in the night.

I have tried to be patient and accept that 'food is for fun until you're 1' and all that but he'll be 1 in two weeks and I feel we should be seeing some progress with increasing his solid foods. I certainly feel he should be going longer than three hours at night without a feed at his age. He sometimes has managed 6 hours when he was much younger.

I feel stuck as I can't see a solution that fits my desired parenting style whilst maintaining my sanity, not being too upset with my son and getting enough sleep to function at work.

It seems to me I have three options, none of which I really feel happy with:

  1. Weaning my son from breastfeeding - I don't want to do this as I feel that apart from the excessive night waking, our breastfeeding relationship is more enjoyable and we both get more out of it than we ever did when he was smaller

  2. Deal with a lot of screaming at night

  3. Put up with lack of sleep and get frustrated with my son

My son wakes so frequently at night that the only way I can survive is to co-sleep after the first waking. I've tried sleeping in a separate room but it doesn't help and I've tried putting him back in his cot at night but he often wakes soon after. I don't really want to co-sleep either but otherwise I'll sleep even less. I could even accept one or two night feeds for a while longer if it allows us to continue breastfeeding but I can't deal with waking every one to two hours for most of the night.

Does anyone know another way I can help him to learn to love his food?

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    One transition food that help with us was mixing rice cereal (the flaky stuff that's like fish food) with breast milk. This keeps the flavor somewhat similar and gets him used to different textures. However, this was at a younger age -- if he's pretty entrenched in not wanting solid food, it may be a bigger challenge! – Acire Jan 2 '15 at 13:31
  • Thanks. He does eat some food when he feels like it, it just doesn't seem to be enough and sometimes he refuses meals completely. He's never been that interested in runny or mushy food, he likes to feed himself finger food but only when it suits him. But it's not a problem for him if he keeps me up at night because he's hungry – MiniMum Jan 2 '15 at 13:46
  • Does he actually eat solids when he's with others? Daycare, grandparents, babysitter, anybody else? Does it make a difference if you're not around? – Little Ms Whoops Jan 8 '15 at 16:21
  • I could have written this myself! We have the identical issue. What was the outcome And how long did it take? – user19174 Sep 26 '15 at 7:14
  • Hi Deb. My son is now 20 months and things have improved a bit. He started waking a bit less frequently since this post without really doing much but was still waking a few hours after going to bed. Things improved further when my husband started going to him at night. He wasn't happy about it but after a few nights he cried less and started sleeping a longer first stretch without having any milk. Eating is still not great but he survives and grows so he must be getting something. – MiniMum Sep 26 '15 at 19:16
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I feel stuck as I can't see a solution that fits my desired parenting style whilst maintaining my sanity, not being too upset with my son and getting enough sleep to function at work.

You are stuck, because you have conflicting desires/goals here. Prioritizing is painful when you want so much for your baby, yet it results in a significant cost to you. But there are two worlds here to consider.

I have a possible answer for you (but I fear you might find it harsh, because you do want the best for your baby): switch him to formula feeding at night.

Several reasons this might work:

  • It would allow the baby's father to carry half the burden of nighttime feedings so you could get more sleep. More sleep = happier mom = healthier relationship with baby.
  • It would allow you to continue breastfeeding for bonding a few times per day (your breasts will adjust).
  • It would insure adequate nutrition.
  • It would likely fill his stomach more so that he could sleep longer periods between feedings.
  • He really has had the immunologic benefit he needed from breastmilk. Longer certainly wouldn't hurt, but I don't believe it has been proven to help.
  • He will stop associating the breast with falling asleep.

If you want, a trial of this alone will free you from the significant lack of sleep you're experiencing now.

The other issue that I think needs to be addressed soon is how to get your child to self-soothe to fall asleep. You might find this harder emotionally than providing formula at night. It will be easier once you make your sleep and sanity a priority as deserving (and maybe more so out of necessity) as the benefits to your little one of feeding on demand.

Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries

  • Thanks for your suggestions. We are considering giving him another type of milk at night but as he's now old enough for cow's milk we thought we'd give him that. We tried this last night and he refused to drink it. But I am also reluctant to just replace one milk with another as I thought by this age he should be able to get most or all of his nutrition in the day. – MiniMum Jan 2 '15 at 9:12
  • Ah, that makes sense. If your primary quest is how to get your baby to eat more 'solid food', I'm not much help. My kids ate everything I put in front of them. :-/ – anongoodnurse Jan 2 '15 at 9:22
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    I don't have a lot of experience, but what @anongoodnurse wrote makes a lot of sense. Getting you some sleep sounds like a really good idea, as does breaking the association breast = soothing/sleep. Could it also be that he picks up on your slight impatience with him eating solid foods? Enough sleep for you might also help you to accept that he might not be ready for solids yet, which in turn might make him open up to the idea of eating solids. Also, for the last nightly feeding, perhaps consider giving him just a little, so he's hungry again in time for breakfast? – Little Ms Whoops Jan 2 '15 at 10:34
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I have to say that the primary reason your son is not eating food in the day is that he is getting it at night. So you need to cut down night feeds quickly to nothing. Limit it to 2 oz per feed on the first night (or 5 mins) and then reduce the number of feeds and the daytime intake will increase; it may take a couple of days, but I have known a number of mums whose kids have decided to not eat anything chocolate or sweets, and they have taken the attitude of withholding anything until they eat proper food. None have resisted more than two days and now all eat normally. You need to explain it too; your son is young but not too young to understand.

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There's no evidence that waking at night is connected with eating during the day. Here's a popular science article about it:

Feeding babies more during the day will not stop them waking at night, finds Welsh university research

So the advice from others to night wean may not be very helpful.

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Can you nurse more during the day and take the pressure off of more solids. Also have you tried cooking with the breastmilk...stirring into warm cereals, mixed in with sweet potatoes or softer foods? Or drizzling it over? I used to make mommy milk popsicles blended with grain, fruit, veggies, ect. They were a hit especially blueberry. I have plenty of friends whos kids really do follow the under 1, food is just for fun. Your little one is only in this stage for so long. So honestly try to up the nursing during the day and continue to present finger foods in the high chair while you're eating. I would just offer bits of what you guys are eating, with maybe a dash of Breastmilk.

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I expect that aside from nutrition, breastfeeding provides comfort for your son. Perhaps the problem is more emotional. If there is something bothering him emotionally, nighttime is when it is most likely to manifest. He may wake up troubled, and the best way to feel secure again is to breastfeed.

This could also explain the lack of desire to eat solid food during the day. If there is something else bothering him, he may have less interest in eating, or may reject it precisely because it gives him a feeling of control, which is what he needs to deal with his emotional upset.

Is there anything significant that has changed in his life recently that might be causing anxiety or distress? Has he been separated from someone significant or had a change of environment that could be distressing? At 1 year old, he is probably too young to communicate what is bothering him, but he may be old enough to understand, at least partially, if you explain things to him. If you can figure out what might be causing him emotional distress, and explain to him, in the simplest terms possible, how you can help him with it (and repeat it to him ad nauseum), you might find that he sleeps better and accepts solid food better. You can also explore other ways of providing him comfort and reassurance both during the day and at night.

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