My Toddler Lost Her Appetite

by Claire McCarthy, M.D.

My Toddler Lost Her Appetite

Why it’s normal and when it becomes a real problem

Is it normal for a toddler to lose her appetite? My 2-year-old doesn’t eat as much as she used to.

Very normal. Here’s why: First, toddlers are busy people. Eating can seem low-priority to a kid who has a block tower to build, a doll to dress, and serious scribbling to do. Toddlers also become more discerning—okay, picky—about their food as their independence grows and they start to express their own likes and dislikes. They don’t like to be told what to do, eating included.

There’s biology involved, too. Children’s rate of growth is very rapid for about their first 12 months of life, and then it slows a little. It makes sense that they’d need less food to fuel them after that point.

So don’t push your daughter to eat. It’s better if you let her listen to her own hunger cues; this can help prevent obesity later on. Offer her healthy choices at various times of day (she won’t starve!).

Very rarely, a loss of appetite can be more of a problem. Call your doctor if your daughter:

  • is losing weight
  • complains of a stomachache or other pains
  • is vomiting or has diarrhea or blood in her stools
  • has fever, cough, or other signs of illness.

Claire McCarthy, M.D., director of pediatrics at the Martha Eliot Health Center, in Jamaica Plain, MA, and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She’s also busy raising five children.