Infant - lack of interest in feeding

Alternative names
Feeding - lack of interest; Poor feeding in infants

Poor feeding is when an infant either demonstrates a lack of interest in feeding, or an inability to take in adequate nutrition.

Poor feeding is a nonspecific symptom seen in newborn and young infants that can result from many conditions, including infection, metabolic disorders, genetic disorders, structural abnormalities, and neurological disorders.

Poor feeding is not an indicator of the severity of the disease, but it is an indicator that (even in the absence of other symptoms) suggests close watching of the infant.

Common Causes

  • Viral gastroenteritis  
  • Galactosemia  
  • Group B streptococcal septicemia of the newborn (late)  
  • Meningitis  
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula  
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome  
  • Birth acquired herpes  
  • Botulism (infant botulism)  
  • Congenital hypothyroidism  
  • Hypoplastic left heart  
  • Meningitis H. influenza  
  • Physiologic jaundice of the newborn  
  • Patent ductus arteriosus  
  • Premature infant  
  • Tetralogy of Fallot  
  • Total anomalous pulmonary venous return  
  • Transposition of the great vessels  
  • Truncus arteriosus  
  • Any disorder that causes damage to the nervous system or causes muscle weakness

Home Care
Watch closely for the development of other signs and symptoms of illness, including signs of dehydration. Also watch the height, weight, and general development closely for signs of malnutrition or failure to thrive.

Call your health care provider if

  • Your child does not seem to be eating enough or is consistently losing weight.  
  • Poor feeding is accompanied by other signs or symptoms.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
A child who is feeding poorly will often have other symptoms and signs that, when taken together, define a specific syndrome or condition. Diagnosis of that condition is based on a family history, medical history, and thorough physical evaluation.

Your health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions like the following:

  • Eating habits       o How does the baby (child) eat normally?       o Has the diet been changed recently?  
  • Time pattern       o Has the baby (child) always been a fussy eater?       o Is the feeding getting harder?  
  • Other symptoms       o Is there vomiting?       o Is there diarrhea?       o Is there an abnormal stool color?       o Is there abdominal pain?       o Is there abdominal cramping?       o Is there a sore throat?       o Is there a stiff neck?       o Is there a headache?       o Is there gagging or choking?       o Is there coughing?       o Are there other symptoms?


Laboratory studies such as X-rays, GI studies, and blood tests may be ordered to confirm the presence of a suspected disorder.


Although the health care provider maintains records on your baby, it is a good idea to maintain your own records of office visit findings, test results, and your own observations of your baby’s health. You should add measurements that you do at home (such as height and weight).

Bring your records to the health care provider’s attention if you notice any abnormalities, or if you have questions about your baby’s development. If a diagnosis was made by your health care provider as the cause of poor feeding, you note this diagnosis in your record.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.