My baby doesn’t want to eat!

Our baby Grace is 6 months old.  Until now she has been mostly breast fed, with a bottle or two of formula everyday.  She's always been on the thin side, although she's growing.  She likes nursing and the bottle.  My pediatrician said to start her on solid foods but she resists everything I offer. I’ve tried cereal, fruit, and carrots (all baby food, of course.)  Sometimes she'll take a taste or even a spoonful and then pull back and turn her head.  I talk to her, play with her, do all sorts of tricks, but to no avail.  I can't see forcing her to eat.  What do you think?

Some babies are eager to eat as early as four months of age.  They watch their parents at dinner, tracking the forks as bites of food disappear into the grown-up mouths.  When they finally are offered a taste, they seem to inhale each mouthful with happy gratitude.  Other babies, like your Grace, aren't that interested in food at five, six, or even seven months of age.  They turn away as if to say, "No thanks".

It may comfort you to know that a baby who is breast or formula fed (or a combination of the two) can grow quite well without solid foods.  Although we recommended that babies begin to try tasting other foods sometime between four to six months of age, babies don't need the extra food for nutrition until they're older.  The age at which babies really start to eat is quite variable, with some babies preferring to nurse or drink from a bottle until they're almost a year old.

Grace is probably just going to take her time getting used to the idea of eating.  You can try having her sit with you once or twice a day at your own mealtimes and offer her a dab of food on a small spoon.  Continue to keep the food simple--rice cereal, applesauce or other pureed fruit, or one of the sweeter vegetables, such as squash.  If Grace resists, set the spoon down on her high chair tray to see if she'd like to try it on her own.  If she's at all interested, give her small tastes until she turns her head away, and then stop.  Your goal should be to have a pleasant few minutes together--don't worry about the amount she eats.  Talk to her, but don't coax her or praise her for eating.  In the long run, it's better for Grace to learn to pay attention to when her body wants to eat.

Some babies are more interested than others in feeding themselves.  At Grace's age, she won't get a lot of food inside her that way, but that’s O.K. By letting her hold her  own spoon or by giving her small pieces of mushy banana or a piece of toast to wave and gum, she can have the fun of trying.  Plan to feed her before a bath, because she's likely to put food in her hair as well as in her mouth!  Don't try to control her playfulness.  Just keep giving her a small amount of food and let her decide what to do with it.

You mention that Grace is "on the thin side".  As long as she is growing along her own pattern and her height and weight are in proportion, you don't need to be concerned.  Your health care provider will have a chart plotting Grace's height and weight percentiles since birth.  One important pattern to be aware of, however, is that some breast fed babies who are born to well-nourished mothers may be longer or heavier than one might expect from their parents' size in the first six months of life and then drop to a lower percentile in the second half of the first year.  So it's important to look at Grace's overall pattern and her state of health as well.  

What's most important now is to avoid pressuring Grace to eat.  Even though she might take a few bites to please you now, when Grace becomes a normal, resistant toddler with a normal decrease in appetite, she could choose to make meal time her battleground for independence.  It's much safer to let her stay in control of her eating and appetite.