Why is My Baby Refusing To Eat Solids

Last Updated: 
July 18, 2024
 | 
6
 minutes read
Written by
Amanda Kule
Parent Contributor
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

The first year of your baby’s life is full of milestones and changes, and starting to eat solid food is one of them!

While nearly all nutrients during the first year of your baby’s life come from drinking formula or breast milk, around 4 to 6 months old many babies are ready to start trying and exploring solid foods. By 12 months old, they should be able to get all their nutrients from solid foods and cow’s milk, or a dairy alternative.

While many babies are excited to start eating solid foods after months of drinking only breast milk or formula, other babies have a tougher time with the transition and refuse solids.

Rest assured refusing solids is normal in both babies and toddlers. Oftentimes this is temporary and will improve with time and exposure. However, there are situations where you may need support from a healthcare provider.

Read on for more information about why babies refuse solid food, how to help your baby accept solid foods, and when you should worry about your baby not eating solids food.

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Why Do Babies Refuse Solid Food?

Throwing spoons, shaking heads, disgusted faces – it’s often clear if your baby isn’t loving the solids you have offered them. While this may be frustrating for you, especially if you are covered in whatever food they decided to toss, remember that oftentimes babies refuse solid food simply because they don’t yet have the skills or developmental ability to eat yet. They also may truly not like what they’re eating!

Reasons for why babies refuse solid food could include:

  • They aren’t ready to start solids: American Academy of Pediatrics say that before starting solids, your baby should be able to hold their head high for longer periods, sit upright, weigh at least 13 pounds, and open their mouths when they see food. Experts say babies are often ready to be introduced to solids around 6 months old, some as early as 4 months. Even if they seem ready, it takes practice before they get the hang of it.
  • Prefers formula or breast milk: In the period of introducing solids, it's very common for your baby to fill up on formula or breast milk (or cow’s milk if they are older than one) and not be hungry for solids. Sometimes they may prefer drinking formula or breast milk rather than solids, so they eat enough to get the calories they need and leave little room for anything else.
  • They aren’t hungry: At the beginning of your baby’s life, they feed on demand – at times around the clock! As you figure out your baby’s feeding routine when you introduce solids, keep an eye on their hungry cues and adjust your routine accordingly to make sure they are hungry when it’s time for meals.
  • Tongue thrust reflex: Babies have a tongue thrust reflex, or gag, to help prevent them from choking if something gets into their mouth. While this tends to go away by the time your baby starts solids, sometimes it can last past 6 months. When tongue thrust lingers, which can make it unpleasant for babies to eat. If you’re concerned that your baby or toddler has a tongue thrust reflex that has not gone away, speak to your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.
  • Allergies: If your baby had a reaction to a food previously, they may instinctively try to avoid it. If your baby seems uncomfortable or in pain after eating, speak with your pediatrician. If your baby is having a severe reaction to a food, seek medical help.
  • Teething and illness: Think about if your mouth or tooth hurts or you feel sick, you may not want to eat either! Especially if you are being offered new food.
  • Feels weird: Babies have only drunk liquids for months! It takes some time to adjust to the new taste and textures – it can be sensory overload.
  • Excessive gagging: Gagging is normal for babies as they adjust to new tastes and textures and learn to properly chew and swallow food. However, some babies (and adults) have a hyper-sensitive gag reflex that may cause them to gag more often, especially when consuming thicker or sticky foods such as banana and mashed potatoes. This can make it difficult during the transition to solids and may be caused by an underlying condition. Speak to your pediatrician if their sensitive gag reflex is excessive and does not seem to be improving.
  • Tired: If your baby is protesting bedtime, waking often in the middle of the night or taking short naps, they may be too tired during the day and don’t have the energy to try something new, such as eating solids. Download the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app which can help you tweak their schedule to align with their natural sleep rhythm, so they fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer – and get the quality rest they need.

Remember, starting solids is a gradual process and if your baby refuses food, don’t force them to eat. If you’re concerned about your baby refusing solids, speak to your pediatrician.

Why Babies Refuse Solid Food Suddenly

The most common cause of your baby refusing to eat solids suddenly is when they are teething or when they are sick.

Refusing solids when teething

Oftentimes teething symptoms can cause a baby to refuse solid foods. While temporary, decreased appetite for solids is common in the week around when your baby’s tooth is coming in.

Often teething babies still have an appetite for liquids, so keep offering formula or breast milk (or cow’s milk if they are over one year old) along with solids. Eventually their hunger for solids should return.

Refusing solids when sick

When your baby doesn’t feel well, they often will lose their appetite for solids. You can try offering more bland or simple foods that are easier to digest, such as infant cereal or crackers.

Even if they don’t want to eat solids when they are sick, it’s important they drink plenty of fluids, so they don’t get dehydrated. Your baby drinking extra fluids is especially important if they have a fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Pediatricians don’t recommend you put infant cereal in your baby’s bottle.

Speak to your pediatrician if your baby seems sick and is refusing to eat or drink.

Tips to Help your Baby Accept Solid Foods

If your baby isn’t sick or teething and has been told by your pediatrician that they are ready to start solids, there are different ways to help them make the transition to solid foods and encourage them to accept solid foods – and enjoy them!

  • Tweak their eating schedule: Babies eating solids should be given something to eat or drink every 2 to 3 hours, whether it be a meal, snack, or bottle. Try offering solids before a bottle, or reducing the amount of formula or breast milk you give before offering solids. You can track when your baby eats using the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app. It’s Smart Schedule makes it easy to plan your baby’s schedule – an added plus, their suggested day and nighttime sleep schedule will adjust to account for any feeds!
  • Watch for hunger cues: If your baby isn’t hungry, they likely won't accept solids! Just like with sleepy cues, look for hunger cues such as reaching or pointing to food, getting excited by food, or using hand motions to let you know they’re hungry.
  • Don’t force it if they’re done: Fullness cues include closing mouth, turning head, throwing or pushing away food, your hand or spoons, or using hand motions to show they’re done. Experts recommend you let your child decide how much they want to eat to build healthy habits and relationships with food.
  • Offer choices and variety: Offering a variety of colors, textures, and types of food is important to promote healthy eating habits. Giving your baby a fun-looking plate can also make them more excited about trying things!
  • Keep offering rejected foods: The CDC says it can take around 10 times before your child may like a food they previously rejected! Wait a couple of days before trying again.
  • Alter the texture: If your baby gags easily, try adding infant cereal to purées to create a little texture and get them used to chewing. Teething crackers that dissolve easily are also a good way to get them used to chewing and swallowing and may be easier on their gag reflex.
  • Give appropriate portions: When you first introduce solids, start small. Introducing solids is a gradual process and you don’t want to force or overwhelm your baby. Remember that as your baby gets older, they grow slower than they did when they were younger, so they don’t need to eat as much or as often.
  • Serve what you’re eating: Modeling healthy habits is important for setting a good example for your baby. Sharing meals is one good way for them to see and become interested in more types of food. Of course, modifications may need to be made for your baby. For example, babies under one can’t have honey and it’s recommended you limit the amount of added salt and sugar.

Remember all children can be picky. Don’t feel discouraged if your baby is not accepting solids!

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What to Do if Your Baby Refuses Solid Foods – By Age

In addition to the above tips, some additional advice for what to do if your baby refuses solid foods by age.

4-6 months old refusing solids

If your 4-6 month old is refusing solids, they simply may not be ready developmentally or physically – or haven’t developed the curiosity! You can try offering purées mixed with formula or breast milk to see if they will be more open to that. You also can start including them in family meals. If they are still not interested don’t worry, you can wait until closer to 6 months to try again. Pediatricians don’t recommend you put infant cereal in your baby’s bottle.

7-10 months old refusing solids

By around 7 months old most babies are capable of eating solids, but that does not mean they are interested. It’s common for babies between 7 months old and 10 months old to refuse solids.

One reason could be they haven’t yet mastered the pincer grasp, which commonly happens between 8-10 months old. To help them practice their pincer grasp you can give them easy-to-grasp soft toys and books to play with.

Another reason they may reject solids is because they don’t like being spoon fed. If your baby rejects solids on a spoon, you can talk to your pediatrician about trying baby-led weaning. Baby-led weaning is a method of introducing solid foods to your baby in which they are allowed to feed themselves and choose what they want to eat from the start, rather than being spoon-fed puréed foods until they are older.

The baby-led weaning approach encourages your baby eating whatever you’re eating, which can increase their interest and turn mealtime into a fun, social, positive experience.

Remember that it can take up to 10 times of being introduced to a food for a baby to accept it. Don’t force it but keep offering!

10-12 months old refusing solids

As your baby gets older, a common reason why they would continue to refuse solids is because they don’t like the texture, or how the food you offer them feels in their mouth.

Rest assured, it’s rare for young children to have a serious feeding disorder. Offer bumpy teething toys to help them get used to different feelings in their mouth.

12 months and older refusing solids

If your toddler continues to reject solids that aren’t purées or if they are not able to self-feed, speak to your pediatrician.

When Should I Worry About My Baby Not Eating Solids?

By 12 months old babies typically start to be weaned off formula or breast milk and get all their nutrients from solids and cow’s milk or a dairy alternative. While it's normal for babies to progress at their own pace when it comes to eating solids, there are a few instances that may affect their development or safety which you might want to discuss your baby's eating habits with a pediatrician.

  • Consistent refusal: If your baby consistently refuses to eat solids or shows strong aversions to certain textures or flavors over an extended period, it may be worth discussing with your pediatrician.
  • Weight loss or lack of growth: If your baby is not gaining weight or is losing weight, it's important to speak to your pediatrician. Poor intake of solids can sometimes lead to inadequate nutrition, impacting growth and development.
  • Difficulty swallowing or excessive gagging: While it's normal for babies to gag occasionally as they learn to eat, if your baby has persistent coughing or gagging, difficulty swallowing solids or frequently chokes while eating, it's important to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying issues that may be impacting their ability to eat safely.
  • Signs of distress or discomfort: If your baby shows signs of distress or discomfort during or after eating solids, such as crying, arching their back, or refusing to swallow, it's essential to address these concerns with your pediatrician.
  • Other developmental concerns: If your baby is not meeting other developmental milestones in addition to struggling with solids, it may indicate a broader developmental issue.

The Bottom Line

Once your baby is around 12 months old and starts eating more solids and drinking cow’s milk, they often receive enough of the energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals they need to thrive – and no longer need the supplemental nutrition from formula or breast milk.

However, sometimes the transition to solid foods is more difficult. While it can be nerve-wracking or frustrating for parents if your baby refuses solids, remember that just like with every other milestone in their early life – from walking to talking to sleeping through the night – they may choose to eat solids at their own pace.

You know your baby best, so trust your instincts. If you have concerns about your baby's eating habits or overall well-being, reach out to your pediatrician for guidance and support. They can offer personalized advice and recommendations based on your unique baby.

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FAQs:

Babies often suddenly start refusing to eat solids if they don’t feel well or have teeth coming in. They may not be hungry when they’re ill, or it could not feel comfortable to eat.

Babies typically are weaned off formula and bottles by their first birthday because they get all their nutrients from food and milk. If you’re concerned about how much your baby is eating or their habits, get in touch with your pediatrician.

It’s common for babies 7 month old babies to refuse solids – in fact, it’s common for all babies to refuse solids! A common reason is they are still figuring out their pincer grasp, which typically you see them figuring out between 8 and 10 months old. Keep offering them solids as well as soft toys that they can pick up to help them practice.

Many babies struggle with the transition away from their bottle to solids and milk. It’s usually temporary and will get better once they become used to solids and find textures and flavors they enjoy. By the time they are one years old and can start drinking cow’s milk, most babies will eat enough solids that they can drop formula.

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How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics, “Healthy Active Living—Tips for Introducing Solid Foods”

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.Org, “Bite-Sized Milestones: Signs of Solid Food Readiness”

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.Org, “Drinks to Prevent Dehydration When Your Child is Vomiting”

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.Org, “Is Your Baby Hungry or Full? Responsive Feeding Explained”

Center for Disease Control, “Infant and Toddler Nutrition”

International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, “Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy in Tongue Thrust Habit: A Narrative Review”

Pediatrics, “A Practical Approach to Classifying and Managing Feeding Difficulties”

Pediatrics, “Symptoms associated with infant teething: a prospective study”

StatPearls, “Physiology, Gag Reflex”

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