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What is a Feeding Aversion?

Updated: May 5, 2023

A feeding aversion is when a baby who is physically well and is capable of drinking, repeatedly starts to refuse feeds (partially or a full feed) despite obvious hunger. This can occur with both breast and bottlefed babies. A pattern of this behaviour can usually be identified after a baby is 7 – 8 weeks of age.

Unfortunately, a behavioural feeding aversion is often poorly recognised, misdiagnosed and mismanaged by health professionals. Feeding refusal is often assumed to be pain (because of baby’s obvious distress at feeding times) and as a result, medical solutions / medications are often given. If pain isn’t the cause of the aversion, these will be ineffective in treating the feeding aversion, and the problem will continue. It can feel like a desperately stressful time – for both Mum and baby.

How can I tell if my baby has a feeding aversion?

If your baby has previously fed well in the early days / weeks but at some point this has changed and they’ve become very fussy feeding or refusing feeds, they may have developed a feeding aversion. Signs to look out for:

- Your baby appears hungry but refuses to feed

- Your baby appears hungry but will only suck for a short time then pushes the nipple away with their tongue, may clamp their mouth shut, turn their head, arch their back and pull away. This behaviour can continue throughout a feed – they’ll suck for a short time then pull off and cry, before returning for more.

- Your baby starts to cry as soon as they are placed in the feeding position, or when a bib is put on

- Your baby cries at the sight of your breast or a bottle

- Your baby will only feed when asleep or very drowsy / when they’re less aware that they’re feeding

What might have caused a feeding aversion?

Aversions occur due to either a medical condition or a behavioural issue. The most likely causes of the aversion are:

- Baby feeling stressed due to repeatedly being pressured or forced to feed when they don’t want to.

- Baby feeling stressed due to gagging or choking while feeding

- Pain due to mouth ulcers when sucking, or pain upon swallowing due to an inflamed oesophagus caused by acid reflux or a cows milk protein allergy. (If medications / eliminating dairy does not resolve the issue, then this wasn’t the cause). It’s very rarely (if ever) caused by teething.

Sometimes parents unintentionally pressure their baby to feed, when the baby is indicating they don’t want to or have had enough. This is only done out of love and anxiety that the baby hasn’t fed enough or the idea that a baby doesn’t know how much they need to drink / eat to thrive and grow. Sometimes pressure from health professionals about how much and how often your baby needs to feed or what’s recommended on the side of a tin of formula can add to this anxiety and this pressure is then transferred to the baby. If the cause isn’t treated, the aversion can continue for weeks, months or years.

Can my baby’s feeding aversion be resolved?

Yes! The first step is working out the cause of the aversion / what is causing them to feel stressed about feeding. Once this is identified, we'll find a solution. Education is given around how to support a baby's self-regulation, how to correctly interpret a baby's hunger cues, how to offer feeds and how to overcome the aversion. We will help your baby overcome their distress and learn to trust that feeding (breast or bottle) can be a relaxed and comfortable / safe experience and you'll go back to enjoying a happy and therapeutic feeding relationship.

** Read more about a Feeding Aversion Consultation here

"No one could work out why my baby just wouldn't feed. I'd seen my GP, Plunket, a Lactation Consultant an Osteopath, I was desperate for help, but no one could figure it out. I feel so lucky we found Deb - after she heard our story and we changed how we were feeding, life was different within only 2 DAYS(!!!). I'm so happy that my baby is happily feeding again, it was life changing". ~ Kristy

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