Feeding Difficulties

May 4, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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A parent’s number one instinct is to care for and nourish their child, so encountering feeding difficulties with your little one might be one of the most distressing issues you can face. Problems with feeding in infants and even older children are more common than many people realize. By some estimates, anywhere from 25% to 40% of infants and toddlers experience some type of issue that interferes with regular nutrition.

If your little one is dealing with feeding difficulties, you are not alone. Although this can be a challenging and stressful problem to overcome, it is very often manageable. We’re sharing the following overview to help you feel more empowered and knowledgeable as you work to develop a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

What are feeding difficulties?

Feeding difficulties can describe a wide range of issues that disrupt healthy nutrition. Researchers classify serious feeding difficulties into categories including structural problems, neurodevelopmental problems, and behavioral problems that can all interfere with feeding. Since feeding is such a basic life function, particularly for growing infants and children, difficulty feeding can have a major impact on overall health and development.

Causes of Feeding Difficulties in Infants

There are a wide range of types and underlying causes for feeding difficulties in infants and children. While a temporary illness such as a stomach virus may cause a loss in appetite, a chronic feeding difficulty is when a child has problems feeding or refuses food for weeks, months, or longer.

Some causes of mild to moderate feeding difficulties include gastric reflux and food allergies. While these are often associated with issues like colic in infants and children who feed regularly, in some cases they can also result in food refusal or difficulty with feeding.

Other feeding difficulties are related to an underlying condition. Broken down into three main categories, the causes of the most serious feeding difficulties can include:

  1. Structural abnormalities: Congenital defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate, or an abnormally narrow throat or esophagus, can make it difficult to swallow or obstruct feeding in other ways.
  2. Neurological disorders: Conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Arnold-Chiari malformation can disrupt feeding and the ability to thrive.
  3. Behavioral causes: Sensory aversion, post-traumatic food refusal, and food sensitivity can all cause food refusal and issues with feeding.

Any infant or child that develops feeding difficulty should see a pediatrician as soon as possible. The best course of treatment depends heavily on positively identifying the cause.

Diagnosing Feeding Difficulties

It can be difficult to diagnose a feeding difficulty in infants and children, and pediatricians may need to conduct an investigation to identify the main source or rule out other causes. This process usually involves the following steps:

  • Review of medical history
  • Thorough physical examination
  • Evaluation of potential stressors in the child’s environment
  • In-depth discussion of eating habits and other routines
  • Diagnostic testing and laboratory testing, including bloodwork and X-rays to check for allergies, diseases, and structural abnormalities that have not already been identified

Caring for a Child with Feeding Difficulties

Upon diagnosis, treatment and management of feeding difficulties can also vary widely according to the cause. In the case of a food allergy, eliminating the food and finding a substitute can help. If the cause is a psychological or behavioral issue, therapy and counseling can help children and potentially even infants regain feeding habits.

In the most serious cases of feeding difficulties, feeding assistance may be needed in the form of a feeding tube (enteral feeding) or total or partial intravenous (parenteral feeding) feeding. In most cases, tube feeding is the preferred method, but parenteral feeding may be required for certain conditions. Your pediatrician or specialist can explain the advantages and differences of each type. Feeding assistance can be both temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause.

Feeding difficulties can have a major impact on every member of the family, and come with significant care needs. Pediatric home health services can provide needed support for caregivers dealing with a full range of nutritional disorders. Support services understand and are there for a wide range of feeding and nutritional needs.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.