My son isn’t eating on a regular schedule. Should I be worried that he won’t grow properly?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

When your baby was born, he came equipped with a well-programmed computer in his head. It provides a constant read-out of the child’s condition: “January 15. 12 pounds, 15 ounces. Looking good.” Furthermore, this computer has a very sensitive alarm mechanism: “11:30. All’s well. Oops! RED ALERT: Hungry!” And when that alarm goes off, your baby will let you know it in no uncertain terms. You’ll have no trouble understanding your baby, and he’ll yell loud enough to awaken the neighbors. Overfeed him, and he’ll spit up. It’s a very straightforward and extremely effective system.

What I’m saying is that babies know when and how much they should be eating. There is a part of the brain called the appestat. Just as a thermostat regulates the temperature in your house, the appestat regulates the appetite control. If your child knows that food is always available, he learns there is no reason to eat too much because he can always have more later.

But if he asks you for an apple at 4:30 in the afternoon and you say, “No, you’ll spoil your dinner,” then you’ve given the message that food is only available at certain times instead of when he’s hungry. What you’re setting up is a mindset that prepares for possible problems ahead because the hunger pang isn’t satisfied. Instead, if you allow your child to eat healthy foods on a demand schedule for the first three years of his life, you will have a slender, sturdy toddler who shouldn’t have any eating problems later in life.

Most of the time, when I hear complaints about not eating, the children are about one year of age. Up to that point, your baby has doubled, or even tripled, its birth weight. For the next three years, the growth is going to slow down considerably. A 20-pound, 12-month-old will usually become a 38-pound, four-year-old. Obviously, his caloric needs will have decreased rather dramatically by his first birthday. As your child learns to walk and becomes more active, he uses calories more efficiently. If you offer a good, varied, and balanced diet, a child will choose to eat as much as he needs and then stop.

One reason adults become obese is that they were taught to eat more than they wanted at set intervals in the day, whether or not they were hungry. Children come into this world knowing that they should eat enough to stop the hunger pangs and no more. Instead of trying to change their behavior, we should take a lesson from it!