Inpatient Feeding Program Overview

The inpatient treatment offered by the CHOC Children’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program is intended for children who have struggled with feeding issues and have not been successful with traditional outpatient feeding therapy but can safely swallow food a majority of the time. Children who participate in the program typically have either a G-Tube (feeding tube) or are at risk for G-Tube placement.

Children seen in the feeding program have a range of medical and/or developmental problems including cerebral palsy, developmental disorders, seizure disorders, genetic disorders, oral motor dysfunction, short-bowel syndrome, food allergies or a history of prematurity. They may also have difficulty with sensory integration and behavioral problems at mealtimes. The multidisciplinary program includes specialists from gastroenterology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, social services and nutrition.

What to Expect

The CHOC Children’s Feeding Team reviews all referrals received for the program and schedules appropriate patients for a clinic visit with our gastroenterologist or nurse practitioner. At that visit, the child may be recommended to have a for a two-hour outpatient evaluation and consultation with the multidisciplinary feeding team. The feeding program’s outpatient evaluation allows for a thorough review of the child’s medical and feeding history and what has caused the child’s feeding problems. Once the team has looked at the child’s overall feeding problems and medical history, they are able to determine the best plan of action for each child, whether that be an outpatient treatment plan or admission into the intensive inpatient program. Learn more about the referral and evaluation process for the CHOC Children’s feeding program.

Services and Goals of the inpatient CHOC Children’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program

The inpatient feeding program at CHOC Children’s is different than most other programs, because our goals are different for every child. For each child that we see, we make a different plan based on the needs and skills of that child and the input of the parent or caregiver on what they would like to see their child achieve. Most children come to the program because they need to learn to eat more by mouth to meet nutritional needs. Depending on the child, and the strength of their oral motor skills, a child may initially be encouraged simply to take their daily calorie requirements using nutritional supplements in addition to table foods. Other typical goals include:

  • Increasing the types of food textures a child will eat
  • Helping the child accept new kinds of foods
  • Encouraging the child eat bigger amounts of foods
  • Assisting children who are at risk for G-Tube placement, to increase food intake and prevent the child from needing to be tube-fed.
  • Helping children who already have a G-Tube to increase oral food intake and decrease the need for tube feedings. (The long-term goal is to have the G-Tube removed.)

All of these goals are worked toward in specific steps as part of an overall food introduction process. Learn more about the food introduction process.

In order to meet these goals, the child must learn and be held accountable to new mealtime strategies. In addition to the child learning these skills during the program,these skills are taught to the child’s parents (guardians) through modeling, direct coaching and informational sessions. Children learn to eat from both therapists and their caregivers, to ensure that the child will continue to make progress once they go back home. The parent becomes the bridge to success between the hospital and home. Learn more about the patient’s caregiver’s responsibilities while undergoing treatment.

Following discharge from the inpatient feeding program, children typically return to outpatient feeding therapy with the therapist they worked with prior to their stay at CHOC Children’s. The goals of continued therapy are to ensure that the child is able to continue improving and working on any remaining goals. Inpatient therapists often work with the child’s outpatient therapists and the family following the program to provide guidance and advice on the most effective strategies for working with the child. All team members are available for consultation to make the transition successful. Children who have gone through the inpatient program typically come back for an outpatient reevaluation three months after their discharge.