Getting kids to eat healthy can be a huge source of stress for parents. Pretty much every age group comes with a unique set of challenges when it comes to food, from the newborn phase up through the teenage years. If you're worried about your child's relationship with food, there are some signs your kid is vulnerable to eating issues to be aware of.
Eating issues can come in many different variations, and they can be mental, physical, or emotional. They can take the form of food allergies and aversions or even eating disorders. Small babies may struggle to gain weight because they either can't or won't eat. Babies who are growing into toddlers may be opposed to eating table food and just want to stick with their bottles or breast milk. Older kids may develop eating disorders because they're sad or stressed. Some of these problems may require treatment or medication, while others may simply require your watchfulness, guidance, and support. Whatever the case may be, you should never hesitate to talk to your pediatrician if your child's eating habits are causing you concern in any way.
Here are seven signs that could mean your child is at risk for developing an issue with eating.
1. They're Born Premature
Babies who are born early often struggle to grow and gain weight for a variety of reasons according to Hand to Hold. They're often hooked up to a feeding tube since they're too weak to suck from a bottle or latch onto a breast. But while feeding tubes can be life-saving, some babies get so used to them that their suck muscles become even weaker. It can take time to get them to the point where they're strong enough to eat on their own, and the struggle with eating can last for years after birth.
2. They Spit Up A Ton
Spitting up is super common with babies, so it's not necessarily something to panic about. But if it's happening all the time, it may be a sign of a deeper issue. It could be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to Parents, which can make your baby uninterested in eating because it's painful. That in turn can lead them to have trouble gaining weight, become very irritable, and even develop breathing problems from aspirating food.
3. Solid Foods Are A Struggle
It's not uncommon for babies starting out with solids to resist them. The new textures and flavors may be off-putting, especially after drinking nothing but breast milk or formula their entire lives. But if you're trying to transition your little one to solid foods and they're still putting up a fight by the time they turn 1, Parents noted that it's probably time to be seen by a feeding specialist. A physical issue like a tight esophagus or uncoordinated swallowing could be to blame.
4. They Gag A Lot
A baby who frequently gags when eating or drinking may also be having difficulty swallowing, according to the Stanford Children's Hospital. Also called dysphagia, this issue can lead to babies to develop an oral aversion that makes them hesitant to put anything in their mouths.
5. Their Weight Isn't On Track
If your little one isn't gaining enough, it could be a sign of a food related issue according to Baby Center. They may not be eating enough, or their body may not be absorbing nutrients properly. The first three years of a child's life are critical to their mental and physical development, so if they're not gaining weight, it's important to talk to your doctor about why.
6. They're Stressed
If your child is going through a stressful time or is having issues with heartburn or constipation, they may be vulnerable to a condition called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), according to Healthline. Boys under 13 years old are especially at risk. The eating disorder can lead to growth and weight issues that can last into adulthood.
7. They Don't Have Positive Body Image Role Models
Kids are very likely to model their parents' behavior. If you've been criticizing your body or weight out loud, your child might start to mimic you, according to Parents. And criticizing the child's weight can be even worse — one study found that children whose parents focused on how much the child weighed were more likely to show signs of eating disorders.