Feeding Disorders

What is a feeding disorder?

A feeding disorder is present when a child is not able to take their full nutrition and hydration needs by mouth.

What causes a feeding disorder?

Children can develop disordered feeding for a variety of reasons and frequently the underlying cause can be difficult to pinpoint. The following are risk factors that can contribute to a feeding disorder:

  • Prematurity.
  • Neurological impairment.
  • Structural anomalies.
  • Disease processes.
  • Cardiorespiratory conditions.
  • Autistic spectrum disorder.
  • Impairments in family feeding patterns.
  • Metabolic disorders.
  • Behavioral disorders.
  • Severe gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Food allergies.
  • Eosinophillic esophagitis.

What are the symptoms of a feeding disorder?

The symptoms of a feeding disorder can vary and not all children will exhibit all symptoms. Some parents may find that they must force feed their child by using distractions or dragging out meals over a long period of time in order to get the child to eat. While many children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, can be picky eaters, some children with feeding disorders are often very picky and are only willing to eat a very limited amount (types) of foods—sometimes as few as 10 foods or less. Children with a feeding disorder may also exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent difficulty with feeding.
  • Refusal to eat food (refusal behaviors).
  • Difficulty with age-appropriate foods or textures.
  • Pain or distress with feeding.
  • Poor weight gain (failure to thrive).
  • Bottle feeding only while the child is asleep.
  • Family history of feeding disorders.
  • Child can only eat small amounts.
  • Aspiration (swallowing difficulty).

How is a feeding disorder diagnosed?

A doctor or other health care provider will examine the child and obtain a medical history. The child’s caregiver will be asked questions about how the child eats and any problems noticed during feeding. The child’s skills will be compared to what is known to be age appropriate feeding skills

What is the treatment for feeding problems?

Specific treatment for feeding problems will be determined by the child’s health care team based on the following:

  • The child’s age, overall health, and medical history.
  • The extent of the feeding disorder.
  • The child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the swallowing disorder.
  • The family’s opinion or preference.

During feeding therapy, therapists work with children to provide them with the skills they need to make mealtime more enjoyable and nutritious. The skills taught to each child are determined based on the patient’s needs and may differ based on the child’s specific issues. Children in feeding therapy are taught oral skills, are introduced to new foods and textures and taught to enjoy eating, especially if the child has developed negative feelings toward mealtime. Learn more about feeding therapy.

Some children who struggle and do not show adequate improvement with outpatient feeding therapy may be candidates for CHOC Children’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program.