Extreme fussy eating

When does fussiness become a real issue with health implications for your baby? Here’s how to spot the signs

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Children are very good at regulating their own food intake, and although it may seem like your child eats next to nothing, by the time you’ve factored in snacks and drinks, he may well be getting enough nutrients to meet his needs. But extreme fussiness becomes a problem when:

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  • You’re worried that your child’s food intake isn’t meeting his energy requirements
  • You have to prepare alternative meals at short notice because his food is left untouched
  • You feel you have to supplement your child’s diet with vitamin supplements
  • Your child is extremely anxious about eating, perhaps to the point of making himself sick
  • You suspect your child may have nutritional deficiencies, with symptoms including irritability, weight loss or poor weight gain, tiredness, disturbed sleep, hyperactivity and constipation.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why a child may go off his food:

  • Antibiotics can upset the gut flora leading to a loss of appetite
  • A food intolerance which causes pain or trapped wind may make your child reluctant to eat
  • Teething or minor illness such as a cold can spoil your child’s appetite
  • Constipation causes discomfort and cramps and can turn your child off food
  • Children with autism may display more faddy tendencies and eating problems
  • A child who is anxious or worried may lose his appetite

Should you be worried?

Although severe fussy eating can be very upsetting, it’s rare for a child to limit his own food intake to the point that he becomes unwell. Try asking yourself:

  • Does he appear healthy, with bright eyes and clear skin?
  • Is he weeing and pooing regularly?
  • Does he have plenty of energy?
  • Is he still gaining weight at a rate that is normal for him?
  • Is there always something that he will eat, even if it’s not as varied as you’d like?

If the answer to all of the above is yes, it’s unlikely that fussiness if damaging your baby’s health. If you’re concerned about his diet, try writing down everything he eats and drinks across the course of a week. You might realise that he’s eating more than you thought.

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But if his fussy eating seems extreme (for example, if he’s eating a very limited diet), has been going on for a long time, is getting worse (for instance, he’s now refusing to eat the foods that he’s always loved) or appears to be affecting his health, behaviour or weight, it’s worth seeing your health visitor. She can help you with strategies for improving his eating, or, if necessary, refer you for further help.

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