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Does My Child Have a Feeding Problem?

Have you ever wondered if your little one might have a feeding or swallowing problem? As infants, babies consume all nutrition through sucking. As they grow, they learn how to eat and drink. All children will have some difficulties at first as they learn how to handle a variety of food and liquids. They may spit up or gag, avoid new foods or reject certain foods, or food and drink may spill from their mouth. For many children this is temporary, but a child with a feeding or swallowing disorder may have a hard time learning how to eat and drink.


What is a feeding disorder?


A feeding disorder is when a child has difficulties sucking, chewing, or swallowing liquids and/or solid food. The child’s oral intake is not age appropriate and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, and/or psychosocial dysfunction. It is estimated that 1 in 37 children under the age of 5 will be impacted by a feeding disorder each year in the United States.

1 in 37 children under the age of 5 will be impacted by a feeding disorder each year in the United States.

There are many causes of feeding difficulties, but sometimes the cause remains unknown. Some causes, or contributing factors, include:

  • Nervous system disorders such as cerebral palsy or meningitis

  • Reflux or other stomach problems

  • Being premature or having a low birth weight

  • Heart disease

  • Cleft lip or palate

  • Breathing problems such as asthma

  • Sensory differences commonly associated withAutism

  • Head and neck problems

  • Muscle weakness in the face and neck

  • Medicines that make children sleepy or not hungry

  • Sensory differences

  • Behavioral problems

  • Tethered oral tissues (Commonly referred to as tongue ties, for example)


Red Flags for Feeding Disorders

How do you know if your child has a feeding or swallowing problem? Some common red flags include:

  • Arches back or stiffens when feeding

  • Cries or fusses when feeding

  • Falls asleep when feeding

  • Has difficulties breastfeeding

  • Has trouble breathing while eating or drinking

  • Refuses to eat or drink

  • Aversion or avoidance of all foods in specific texture or nutrition group

  • Takes a long time to eat (more than 30-45 minutes)

  • Holds food in their mouth

  • Difficulty chewing

  • Coughing or gagging while eating

  • Has liquid come out of their mouth or nose

  • Becomes stuffy during meals

  • Has a gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice during or after meals

  • Spits up or throws up frequently

  • Is not gaining weight or growing

  • Parents reporting child as being “picky” at 2 or more well child checks

  • Inability to transition to baby food purees by 10 months of age

  • Inability to accept any table food solids by 12 months of age

  • Inability to transition from breast/bottle to a cup by 16 months of age

  • Has not weaned off baby foods by 16 months of age

  • Family is fighting about food and feeding (ie. Meals are battles)

  • Parent repeatedly reports that the child is difficult for everyone to feed


A child may avoid eating or associate it with pain, frustration, or embarrassment.

Difficulties with feeding and swallowing can put your child at risk for dehydration or poor nutrition, aspiration (when food or liquid goes into the airways), pneumonia or other lung infections, and having negative feelings about eating. They may avoid eating or associate it with pain, frustration, or embarrassment. If you have concerns about your child’s feeding and swallowing skills, contact us to see if your child may benefit from feeding therapy.

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