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When your Toddler Won’t Eat {5 Tips for Picky Eaters}

When your toddler won’t eat, it eats away at your whole being. Maybe you are a mom of a preemie or a heart warrior, or – for a small group of moms like me – maybe you have a kid with cystic fibrosis. My toddler needs to eat three times more than kids without this condition just to stay skinny. Part of his life-threatening disease affects his pancreas, so every time he eats, he needs to take enzymes to help absorb the nutrients from the food. Even with the enzymes, however, he isn’t getting 100% of his necessary nutrients. So my husband and I need to feed him more.

When he was a baby, we went through all different types of food issues. He wouldn’t take breast milk or regular formula. We tried many different brands and types, like soy or goat milk (even though you’re not supposed to have goat milk formula until after turning one). We were desperate to find something that he would like. Eventually, we figured out that he would drink the soy formula at 1.5 times the concentration. He still wasn’t gaining much weight, but he was eating and slowly growing.

Shaking your first when your toddler won’t eat

After he started eating solids, we would have to put a little bit of heavy whipping cream and avocado or coconut oil in with his purée. We wanted to try Baby Led Feeding, but his enzymes provided only a one-hour time period before they stopped working, so we had to make sure he ate enough calories in time.

He didn’t start eating all of his food until he was just over two years old. One day, he would drink his entire bottle along with his purée and even asked for more. This soon became a habit. Yeah, he was a two-year-old who still drink a bottle – in fact, he was a two-year-old who still had to have his bottle held for him, because otherwise he wouldn’t eat or drink it all. We finally found that he loved anything french fry-shaped. So, we discovered some chicken fingers from Earth’s Best at Target in the shape of french fries that he just gobbled up.

Right now, a little over two and a half years later, we’re in the throes of molar teething. He’s extra needy – he doesn’t want his bottle, and he doesn’t want to drink his milk out of a regular cup. He also doesn’t want to eat anything other than air popped puffies (which are for babies, and are 25 calories for 60 of them).

We’re stuck in the position of needing to feed him to help him to grow. Which is especially important for him, as cystic fibrosis mainly affects his lungs (in addition to his pancreas). Studies have shown that the bigger babies and toddlers are when they’re first developing their lungs, the healthier the lungs are in the long run.

Looking Forward: Creating healthy eating habits 

I remember when we first had drastic feeding issues. Every time he didn’t eat, it felt like a gut punch. Like I was doing something fundamentally wrong as a mom. And no matter how many times people told me that wasn’t the case, my heart hurt because I couldn’t provide for my little baby.

After two and a half years, I realize that most of his bad eating habits are phases. After a week, or even a few days, they will go away. Unfortunately, because of his molars, it has been about two weeks since he’s wanted to eat regularly. My husband and I are discussing getting a feeding tube for him. There have been a lot of studies that say feeding tubes for cystic fibrosis patients are simply a necessity. This helps ensure they get enough calories without having to rely on fast food or empty calories.

My husband and I have gone back and forth so many times with the idea of getting a feeding tube. The idea is scary because it involves surgery, which would inevitably cause pain for our son and more work for us. Also, we’re not sure if we’re ready to admit that he has a problem. Our perfect little guy.

My logical brain tells me that none of this is my fault. That a feeding tube would be better because we could feel more at ease with him not eating, with the knowledge that his body would still get the nutrients it needs. We could also be a little more lax when it comes to eating at school (aka not eating at school) and the times when he just wants to eat his puffies. This will also help create healthy eating habits for the future. 

Advice from a doctor when your toddler won’t eat

My toddler has had a dietitian since he was two weeks old. She has been super easy and helpful to work with – especially with the advice that kids will be kids. Some of the advice that has stuck with me throughout the years:

  • Picky eating is an expected and somewhat normal phase for toddlers.
  • Trying to force them to eat will just backfire and cause you stress.
  • Continue to put food out in front of them, over and over again.
  • Encourage them.
  • When in doubt, bribe with stickers. 

Until we decide we’re ready for a feeding tube, that is all we can do. Just encourage him and keep remembering to breathe. Because at the end of the day, having a toddler is a phase. Eventually they all grow up!

What are some of the best tips you have received for when your toddler won’t eat?

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