About Feeding Disorders

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Feeding therapy at the Marcus Autism Center

Meeting the challenge of pediatric feeding disorders.

A pediatric feeding disorder is a disruption in eating or drinking that may cause medical problems, compromise growth and development, and potentially impact the child physically, emotionally, intellectually, or socially. It is conservatively estimated that severe pediatric feeding disorders affect more than one million children under the age of five in the United States.1

Feeding is a complex process involving 26 muscles, six nerves, and the coordinated interaction among several of the body’s organs and systems.2 In children, this occurs in the context of the parent–child dyad. A disruption in any of these systems places a child at risk for a feeding disorder.

Pediatric feeding disorders may:

  • be related to developmental or physiological delays
  • cause feeding or swallowing to be painful
  • be related to a lack of age-appropriate feeding skills
  • result in choking, gagging, aspiration, and vomiting
  • lead to refusal to eat, disruptive behavior at mealtimes, rigid food preferences, or other nutritional concerns
  • be mild to severe

 

These children are more than fussy babies or picky eaters. Eating, drinking, and digestion may become painful and create negative experiences, leading to problems such as limited food options, inadequate growth, lack of age-appropriate feeding skills, and other nutritional concerns.

Early intervention is vital. Because every child is different, diagnosis and treatment benefit from a team approach. The team must include the family and may be comprised of the following:

  • Physician
  • Psychologist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Speech & Language Pathologist
  • Nurse
  • Registered Dietitian
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Other specialists as needed

 

Pediatric feeding disorders are a heterogeneous group of problems that may present in various ways. More than 300 other conditions put children at an even higher risk, including autism, congenital heart defects, food allergies, prematurity, genetic disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. These problems can lead to delayed diagnoses and inappropriate interventions.

1. Barkmeier-Kraemer JM1, Linn C, Thompson HL, Byrd RS, Steinfeld MB, Hoffmann RG, Silverman AH. Preliminary Study of a Caregiver-based Infant and Child Feeding and Swallowing Screening Tool. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017 Jun;64(6):979-983. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001442.

2. Bass, N.H. and Morrell, R.M. The neurology of swallowing. In: M.E. Groher (Ed.), Dysphagia, Diagnosis and Management. Butterworth–Heinemann, Boston, MA, 1992, pp. 1–29.