Feeding problems are quite common among children and usually not serious, especially if a child is doing well in terms of growth and development.
But if your child is refusing food, eating only small quantities, extremely picky about what they eat, or having problems digesting food, you may be worried that they aren’t getting enough nutrition for their growing bodies. You may even wonder whether they have a feeding disorder.
What are feeding disorders?
A feeding disorder is defined as difficulty in consuming an adequate amount or variety of food. This inability or refusal to eat and drink enough food to maintain adequate nutrition may lead to substantial physical, nutritional, or emotional consequences, including impaired growth.
Children diagnosed with feeding disorders are at a greater risk for compromised physical and cognitive development. They may develop more slowly, experience behavioral problems, and even fail to thrive.
What causes feeding disorders?
Feeding disorders typically develop for several reasons, including medical conditions (food allergies), anatomical or structural abnormalities (such as cleft palate), and reinforcement of inappropriate behavior.
There are many possible causes for feeding problems, including:
- Nervous system disorders, such as cerebral palsy or meningitis
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or motility disorders of the gut
- Stomach problems, such as gastritis
- Premature birth or a low birth weight
- Heart disease
- Cleft lip or palate
- Breathing problems, such as asthma
- Head and neck problems
- Muscle weakness in the face and neck
- Medicines that make the child sleepy or not hungry
- Behavior problems
What are signs of feeding disorders?
Feeding disorders are usually classified into three main categories:
- Limited appetite
- Selective intake
- Fear of feeding
Different types of feeding disorders can take on one or more of the following forms:
- Trouble accepting and swallowing different food textures
- Throwing tantrums at mealtimes
- Refusing to eat certain food groups
- Refusing to eat any solids or liquids
- Choking, gagging, or vomiting when eating
- Oral, motor, and sensory problems
- Gastrostomy (g-tube) or nasogastric (ng-tube) dependence
How are feeding disorders treated?
Although feeding problems are common, it’s important to rule out underlying causes in children with severe symptoms. Your pediatrician can analyze their medical history and perform a physical examination to determine whether your child has a feeding disorder.
Treatment methods generally include:
- Feeding therapies
- Adding different foods to familiar foods
- Adding extra calories to food
- Trying to get the child to try new foods or textures
- Changing temperatures and textures of food
- Changing the child's position while eating
- Attempting new ways to handle the child's behavior
- Medicines for reflux
- Seeing a professional, such as a psychologist or dentist