Feeding a baby is possibly the number one concern on the list for parents. It is known that there are several ways to feed a baby and several patterns and philosophies on the subject. Whether a baby is breastfed or formula-fed, and whether solid foods are introduced early or late, differs from one parent to the other. The goal is to eventually have a healthy developing baby.
Starvation is one of the main causes of death in babies worldwide, especially in underdeveloped countries, where most babies do not have access to a consistent supply of food. It was found that even in developed countries and rich families, some babies starve or become at risk due to lack of knowledge about what it looks like to have a starving baby.
Most parents think that if the baby looks “fat enough” there is no way it is starving, but this is not entirely true.
If a baby is starving, there are some warning signs that the parents can observe and act accordingly before their baby reaches a critical stage. Medically, starvation is also known as “Failure To Thrive” (FTT). It is dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. Weighing the baby is mostly the gauge for whether a baby is starving or not, but it is not the only way to detect it.
Starvation has several stages and does not develop overnight. This is why many parents miss the signs of starvation and are not aware that a huge problem is growing under their supervision until it is too late.
When babies are not fed adequately, they begin to lose weight at an alarming rate. It is normal for parents not to weigh babies every day, but significant weight loss is easily detectable. Additionally, when babies are taken to their checkups, doctors usually create a log of the baby’s status at different checkups, including the weight pattern.
When a doctor notices that the baby is not growing well, they advise immediate action to be taken before a tragedy happens.
Feeding infants does not result in gaining fat quickly as it might in adults. Conversely, an infant is still basically under construction, and feeding at this point is the only source of growth, including the growth of bones, muscles, and inner organs. That is why it is more dangerous to have an underfed baby than an overfed one.
Weight management in babies and toddlers is doable with the right plan, but starvation is life-threatening and must be taken seriously.
Weight loss due to starvation is not only apparent on the scales. The baby’s appearance may be a strong indicator that something is wrong. It can be normal for babies to have thin limbs, but excessive thinness is not to be ignored. If a parent notices that the baby lacks flesh on their arms and legs, they should definitely get help.
Also, the ribs and the backbone may begin to be more visible from under the skin.
Some parents get confused about how skinny is dangerous for babies and can be tricked into thinking that it is just the baby’s body type, and nothing is wrong. The baby’s weight can be a good indication to confirm.
Some babies seem normal and are actually losing a lot of weight, so naturally, others who seem extremely thin must be checked more frequently to make sure that their weight is on track.
13Feedings Are Too Small
Feeding quantities are much easier to measure in a formula-fed baby than in a breastfed one. It is easy to keep track of the number of ounces a baby drinks per day, but a little-known fact is that breastfed babies have their signs too.
Babies should be breastfed not less than eight times a day for not less than 10 minutes. If a baby is suddenly too tired to nurse and falls asleep while feeding, or if the feeding sessions become too short, it is a sign that the baby is beginning to starve.
In older babies with solid foods introduced, a lack of appetite leading to minimal food intake is an absolute sign of starving. If a baby is not getting enough food, he/she, in turn, does not get enough calories and energy. Also, the body is derived of protein and fat, both of which are essential for survival. If nothing changes, the baby’s general state gets worse.
12Baby Sucks Fingers After Feedings
Another sign to watch out for is that a starving baby sucks their fingers after feeding. This happens because the baby is trying to self-soothe and feel relief from the stress of hunger. It could also happen as an attempt to find food, especially in very young babies who are not yet aware that the source of food is breastfeeding or a bottle.
Usually, the sucking also can be on a pacifier. If a baby does not stop sucking their finger unless a pacifier is introduced, it means the need for sucking is still there, and the baby is not feeling full.
This sign is not to be confused with teething. A teething baby will feel a brief relief after feeding because the sucking action includes light pressure on the gums as well. However, if the sucking happens directly after finishing a feeding, with fussing instead of a calm and relaxed feeling, it is cause for alarm.
This is a sign that the baby is still hungry, and the more often it happens, the more it indicates that the baby is not satisfied. A baby who is not getting enough at most feedings of the day will eventually be starving.
11More Frequent Waking
When a baby first begins to experience extreme hunger, it is natural to say goodbye to long stretches of sleep. A starving baby wakes up all the time because of the sensation of hunger and even when they do sleep, they are unable to sleep for long periods of time.
This hunger deprives the baby of the sleep necessary for healthy development. This pattern is true for both day-time naps and nighttime sleep.
If a baby is used to getting 2-3 naps a day, the naps start getting shorter and less consistent. Also, night-time sleep not only becomes divided, but also may start becoming a series of short naps. When this happens, a baby is up all night waiting to be fed, and when they are not they fall asleep briefly only to wake up again.
Alternatively, they may be unable to fall asleep at all and keep crying and fussing all night because they are hungry.
10Baby Is Inactive
When a baby is starving, it experiences what is known as muscle wasting. This means that the lack of proteins make muscles break down gradually. Muscles are what makes a baby able to move, and when they degenerate, a baby becomes increasingly inactive. This applies even to the newborn stage, when all the movement they do is simply move their arms and legs.
At the older stage, babies who are starving miss their milestones. They do not crawl when they are supposed to, lose the ability to sit up on their own and almost never make it to the walking stage. In normal babies, when crawling and/or walking is delayed, there is evidence of the baby trying until he/she masters the skill.
In starving babies, however, the muscle mass is so low that the baby cannot even try. Regarding fine motor skills, babies cannot grasp objects, throw a softball or point to something, because the muscles in the hands are also affected.
9Baby Is Pretty Irritable
Even when it is not feeding time anymore, starving babies are generally fussier. They are easily irritated by noise and loud sounds. Because they seem to be tired all the time, they cannot handle being in a loud setting. They become increasingly anxious in unfamiliar situations and with new people and do not adapt as they should.
Instead of showing shyness and attaching to their parent, they get shocked and show anger. In other words, they are generally more easily annoyed and infuriated.
Over the course of a single day, they notably cry more. It may seem to be for absolutely no reason and is sometimes not accompanied by a certain stimulus. In babies who can crawl or sit up, it is common that they throw tantrums displayed as throwing themselves on the floor, banging their head against surfaces and excessive screaming.
Violence against themselves and others is also a sign of irritability that could suggest starvation.
8Baby Has Bright Green Stools
The bright green watery stool is known as “starvation stool.” It is the kind of diarrhea that indicates that the baby is not fed well. Also, watery stool indicates loss of water, which can consequently cause the baby to be dehydrated.
In this case, it is possible that there is an infection or inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract that makes the baby unable to process food and use it to grow and generate energy.
When a baby starts solids, the stool color is related to the foods consumed. If a baby had bright green stool, but is otherwise OK, it might not necessarily be starving. However, it is a cause for close observation to make sure that it is not a persisting symptom.
This is true especially for the case if the stool is watery, because dehydration tends to develop rather quickly and puts the baby’s life at risk if not treated fast enough.
Mild jaundice is normal in newborn babies. It is characterized by yellow discoloration of the skin and is more prominently noticed in the eyes. If a baby is fed well, the yellow color begins to fade within a few days, and by two weeks it cannot be seen. However, in a starving baby, the yellow color does not disappear and may continue for up to three weeks.
A starving baby is unable to get rid of bilirubin, the yellow substance that is generated from the breakdown of old red blood cells. This is because starvation leads to decrease in urine and stool; the two routes that enable the body to excrete excess bilirubin.
Also, a new born baby’s liver may be still too immature to get rid of bilirubin, and without adequate feeding, it does not grow and function properly, causing the yellow discoloration to persist. This can also be a start to several dangerous problems associated with a poor liver.
Dehydration is the lack of water in the tissues of the body. It comes with drastic adverse effects. Below the 6-month mark, most babies depend solely on breastmilk or formula. When the only source of feeding lacks to the point that the baby’s body is drying out, all the necessary nutrients for survival lack with it.
In newborn babies and infants, dehydration is usually tracked by diapers. A baby who is not producing enough urine is definitely dehydrated. Doctors consider six wet diapers a day an ideal standard for a healthy baby. If a baby produces less than six diapers, along with any other abnormal signs, it is possible that baby is starving.
5Baby Suffers From Lethargy
Lethargy is a combination of tiredness, excessive sleepiness and lack of response to stimuli. When a baby is starving, the ability to respond to normal eye contact, light, noise, and voices is decreased dramatically. In severe cases, a lethargic baby is in a coma-like state, suffering from decreased movement and responses.
A baby of this state may also sleep much longer than usual, and still wake up and be inactive even after long hours of napping.
Starvation causes an unnatural decrease in calorie intake. This leads to lack of energy produced and hence the baby becomes unable to interact as normally as a healthy baby. Babies’ brains constantly need glucose for energy, even if they are inactive.
When brain glucose drops, the baby exhibits a dead-like state, and if sustained, body systems begin to shut down unless treated. Notably, lethargy may not develop quickly in a starving baby, but may take some time to be noticed.
4Dry Skin And Hair
Starving leads to a severe decline in proteins in the body. One of the most important proteins in hair, nails and skin, is keratin. When this protein, along with other necessary vitamins and minerals is depleted, skin and hair get drier.
Also, hair starts to lose keratin, its main building block, and it starts to fall out and break because its structure weakens considerably. Hair discoloration is also common, specifically lighter hair due to loss of pigmentation.
Similarly, skin loses essential nutrients and begins to dry and peel. Some babies have dry skin by nature, but when skin is drying out fast, there could be an underlying cause related to lack of nutrition. Also, skin that cracks is a sign of starvation, because the lack of fats in the body causes the moisture in the skin to reduce.
Nails suffer a similar effect by being brittle and breaking. This is easily spotted in babies because their nails are normally softer than adult nails.
3Baby Can Have Edema
Edema is the retention of water in the body, especially under the skin in the limbs. It is linked to the lack of protein in starvation. Edema happens when protein decreases to extremely low levels in the blood, causing water to be retained in body tissues instead of going into the circulatory system.
Water retained in tissues causes the tissues to expand. It must be noted that swelling of the abdomen due to edema gives the illusion that the baby is well fed when in fact he/she is in a serious state of starvation.
Moreover, lack of balance in minerals also contributes to swelling secondary to starving. Water moves in the body by a process known as osmosis from high water potential (low salts) to low water potential (high salts).
When this delicate balance is disturbed, water is found in the body where it shouldn’t be and lacks where it should. Edema mainly happens in the abdomen and limbs, but it can happen anywhere in the body.
2More Likely To Get Infections
Decreased nutrients include a decrease in essential vitamins and minerals that promote survival and health. Deficient nutrients compromise immunity, making the body unable to fight disease and leads to common infections.
Some babies suffer colds in winter, but infections due to lack of immunity are more common, more severe and affect more organs. A common implication is respiratory infections because the body is more prone to bacteria and viruses that affect the upper respiratory tract.
It is also possible for those infections to last longer and develop more serious complications when immunity is not strong enough to fight it.
Additionally, fungal infections happen more frequently to starving babies. The skin is vulnerable, and even the slightest diaper rash causes severe skin inflammation and leads to secondary infections that can be painful. Thrush is also a fungal infection that affects the baby and the breastfeeding mother.
It makes the baby unable to feed well because he/she has a sore mouth and may also appear in moist body parts such as a baby’s chin.
1Baby Can Develop Marasmus
Marasmus is a condition in which severe weight loss and muscle wasting occur. It appears as extreme thinness, translucent skin, and bulging eyes. Marasmus occurs towards the late stages of starvation and affects all body parts.
When this state is reached, body functions begin to deteriorate due to lack of minerals such as hyponatremia (lack of sodium) and hypokalemia (lack of potassium). Mineral disturbances have a disturbing effect on the heart.
Behaviorally, a baby with marasmus is not fussy. Contrariwise, at this point, a baby is too weak to cry much so he/she is usually silent and unresponsive to social interaction with the parents or anything else. In some cases, body temperature is irregular and extreme.
Hypothermia (low temperature) is another aspect of this condition that results from lack of heat energy in the body. It can be detected by cold limbs, which also may turn blue due to inefficient circulation.
Sources: <span style="font-weight: 400;">Healthline.com, LiveStrong.com, Medscape.com, ParentSavvy.com</span>
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