Feeding disorders are conditions where children are either unable or unwilling to eat. This often results in failure to gain appropriate weight (FTT), frequent illness due to poor nutrition and possibly death. They are completely different from eating disorders. Eating disorders are more common in teenagers and adults, whereas feeding disorders occurs most often in infants and young children.
These problems occur in an estimated 25% of children. They are most common in children with special needs. Children can be afraid to drink, take an extremely long time to eat, not eat age appropriate foods, or only accept foods of a certain color or texture. They may also refuse to self feed or have difficulty swallowing.
Many medical conditions can contribute to feeding disorders and food aversion. They most commonly occur in children who have been tube fed due to another illness. Reflux in babies causes frequent spit ups and is painful and uncomfortable. This will eventually cause them to not want to eat in order to avoid the pain. Other causes include undiagnosed food allergies, celiac disease, constipation and abnormalities of the throat and digestive system.
There are many profiles of children with these challenges and forms of food aversion. Here are a few common symptoms:
Treatment includes feeding therapy by a trained speech pathologist or occupational therapist. Other people on the treatment team often include gastroenterologists, dietitians,, behavioral psychologists, nurses and physical therapists. It is very important parents are on board with the treatment and are available and determined to carry over what is done in therapy into the home. Parents should also try some of these feeding tips and techniques.The severity, age of the child, longevity of the feeding issue and skill of the clinicians all have an impact on the amount of improvement and how it takes to have the child eating adequate amounts of a wide variety of age appropriate foods.
It is important to realize many children go through food jags and become picky eaters during toddler hood. Growth also naturally slows during this time. Picky toddlers are very normal and usually not a cause for concern. Just because a child is a picky eater does not mean he has a food aversion. If however, you feel your child has feeding issues that go beyond that of a picky toddler, seek feeding therapy and consult with us or a dietitian in your area for techniques on how to help them.