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When a child won't, or can't, eat

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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Monday, June 07, 2010

When a child won't, or can't, eat

I've been tested as a parent many times before, and I expect I will be tested many, many more times. But, this weekend ranks up there as one of the toughest.

One of my children has stopped eating. I will not reveal which one this is, nor will I talk of gender, so please excuse the liberal use of "they/them".

There were signs leading up to this crisis but things came to a head on Thursday when very little was eaten and it was obvious this wasn't going away soon. On Friday, I took this child to the doctor for a full exam in the hopes that this could be fixed with a pill or shot or instructions to rest and take it easy. Don't worry, it's a stomach bug would have been music to my ears.

Instead, I was told that this was likely anxiety based---a fear of eating caused by one traumatic incident involving public vomiting. Not entirely uncommon according to this doctor and Dr. Google, and with a high cure rate, though drastic measures are sometimes needed if too much weight is lost.

In the meantime, I was sent home from the doctors with instructions that we should just try to help our non-eater work through their fear without shame or punishment.

Oh, and don't let them lose more than 5 pounds.

There were glimmers of hope this weekend. Food was eaten. There were smiles and laughter and running around the yard. But all too often, there was a stomach clutched, tears in the eyes, mommy, help me, I want to eat but I can't. I'm so hungry.

Is there anything worse for a parent than to watch their child suffer and not know how to fix it?

This morning, even though I am pretty certain the doctor is right in his diagnosis, we ran every test possible to make sure there is no medical reason for this pain and agony. The doctor agreed that if we tested for everything, and they all came back negative, perhaps this child would realize this is something they need to overcome themselves.

One call with test results has already come back: Negative.


I mean, phew!

But, shit, if there is no medical reason for this, if this is all a fear of eating! I will be charting unknown waters, just when I was feeling like I was getting a hang of this parenting thing.

Wish us luck.

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Anonymous Boston Mamas said...

UGH UGH UGH. I am so sorry to hear you are going through this! As you know, I feel your pain on the mysterious yet clearly real suffering of kids.

I'm here to support you -- and I'm not sure if you're looking for advice, but if I were in your shoes, I would try two things. First, just being as calm as possible and encouraging your child to relax and breathe. I know this sounds simplistic but kids pick up on our anxiety. If we can be calm around a stressful topic, it will help them (can you tell I was just there with this this morning?).

Second, in that relaxed manner, try creating a safe space around eating -- even allow him/her to sit on your lap. Have him/her try a little food (pick something gentle, with low probability of vomit factor... plus have them eat slowly) -- it seems like your kid will need repeated evidence that food can go down and stay down.

Sending hugs. -Christine

10:37 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Oh my.

Am I to understand the doctor diagnosed the situation this way after *your* child vomited in public (at some point), or was that simply the example he used--as to a possible reason behind a child's fear of eating (the possibility one might vomit in public)?

Did the physician offer ANY legitimate suggestions?!?!

I'm keeping you in my thoughts--I cannot imagine how disruptive & frightening this must be for you and your family. :(

11:07 AM  
Blogger The Mom said...

Wow, that really sucks. Anxiety is a wicked thing to deal with. I hope you're able to work through it with them. Nobody should be ashamed to eat. Poor thing.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Mama Goose said...

Oh my. I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this. I hope your munchkin can work through it and get back to normal soon.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

Hi Jessica, This child had an incident a month ago where they vomited in public, without any family members nearby. There were many, many tears. Over the next month, there were "near vomits/upset stomachs" more and more frequently, with no links in types of foods (ruling out a food allergy) until it became the mere thought of food that makes the stomach hurt, the throat close up.

Our doctor (who we saw only after things got this bad) has seen this a few dozen times before and says that the kids just work things out, often without any counseling. The parents may have to jump through hoops (one parent pureed her daughter's food for 18 mos after she choked on a hot dog and refused solid food), but the fear gradually subsides. I'm not saying I won't go in for counseling or further help if things keep going on this way, but he doesn't think we should go there yet---I think the "5 pound weight loss" will be our alarm bell to intervene more.

(and thanks everyone for your comments)

11:17 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Q. said...

Be strong, momma. All will be well. I'm here for you and your eaters and non-eaters. Our crazy place is a good distraction, ya know...

11:28 AM  
Blogger Suburb Sierra said...

As an anxiety-ridden adult, I feel your little ones pain. It will work out and I found it is often distractions or new experiences that take the mind some where else and before you know it, it becomes "What do you mean I couldn't sit in a conference room without panicking if someone shut the door?" - or in your case "eat solid food".

Fruit ice pops? Let them make their own food/meals? Favorite restaurant choice?

Thinking of you and sending wishes that this too shall pass...sooner than you hope.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Dude, I'm so sorry. That sounds absolutely miserable. Poor mama who is helpless to help her hurting baby.

I have not experienced anything beyond super-pickyness, so I don't have any decent suggestions. Maybe look for a food that she loves or finds comforting - some kind of "safe" food? And then you could gradually grow beyond it?

I know, probably useless. So sorry! Hope your bebe gets thru it soon.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Suburban Correspondent said...

I remember as a child almost choking on a piece of food. Can you say traumatized? I would chew things to death, I would never eat unless there was a glass of water at hand, I was a mess. The fear eventually subsided. But I'm sure I drove my parents insane.

But I have never let my children eat something out of my sight, unless there was another person (grown-up, older sibling, etc) around who knew the Heimlich maneuver. So, I guess the anxiety lingers.

I guess the doctor wouldn't consider a tiny amount of drugs to help the child relax before a meal once a day? I'd be tempted to give my kid a tiny bit of dissolved Valium, I'm thinking.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Issas Crazy World said...

Oh friend I'm sorry. I have a bit of experience with this. My middle one stopes eating in January. For weeks. I still have to watch her non stop and check her lunch bag each day. Because her first instinct is to not eat. It's scary and I'm so sorry you are having to go through it.

I can only hope it is an issue that goes away quickly for your child. If you need any ass vice I'm your girl. Really though if you need an ear, I'm around.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

We have had many issues with anxiety with one of our children. Some of it did start from vomiting and feeling the slightest twinge in the stomach would cause the same reaction. Also has a fear of choking and many other issues. At one point did get bad enough that we had to see a doctor for weekly sessions and were taught therapies to combat some of it. It has been a couple of years since that time and it tries to rear its ugly head every now and again. I think growing up some has helped and her knowing how to handle it when it does pop up. I send prays your way and hope it will get better soon because I really do know what you are going through.

7:59 AM  
Anonymous shar133 said...

You poor think - You must be beside yourself. I can't offer any words of wisdom, but just want you to know I'm thinking of you and I'm sure they will start eating again soon!

3:29 PM  
Blogger Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Damn. You have ALL of my wishes for a fast way to get past this hurdle...

7:21 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Just sending love and support. As you said, this will probably pass quickly and the kids will never remember this even as it's a huge deal in your own life.

You have support and love and you will get through this.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Oh wow, how stressful. I had a child who would rather starve than eat something not on her incredibly limited (and legitimately neophobic) list for a while and it was awful. I swear she subsisted on nothing but milk for months, which led to a whole other host of consequences... In her case it was part of a larger series of issues but since she was in fact eating a few healthy things they told me not to make an issue of it, that it would resolve as she progressed (and in fact it did, she'll never be adventurous but she's finally at least willing to try new foods when pushed - it took 4 more years to get to that stage though).

I don't have any experience with a child who's frightened of the actual act of eating, rather than of individual foods, but I think that trying to avoid showing your stress to the extent possible is a good approach. Will they drink something like Ensure in the meantime so that you can at least know that they're getting the calories and nutrition they need?

Big hugs, this is a tough one.

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12:53 PM  
Blogger Patois said...

All of my good vibes are coming your way. I can't imagine how hard this is.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

My cousin went through a stage like that when she was young. She choked while eating and became afraid to eat anything. My aunt was beside herself with worry. If pushed to eat, my cousin would go as far as to chew up food, but then just "store it" in her cheeks like a chipmunk - she wouldn't swallow. I can't recall how long it took before she got over it, but I know to my aunt it seemed like an eternity - there were many, MANY tears. But now she is 23, healthy and an RN.

2:11 PM  

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