Feeding Difficulties

Feeding difficulties can affect children of various ages and backgrounds.  There are various factors that can cause an eating and drinking difficulty such as:

  • Organic difficulties
  • Sensory Integration difficulties
  • Behavioural factors

Organic Difficulties

These include all feeding difficulties resulting from a physical/medical problem which can include the following:

  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Prematurity
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Progressive neurological disorders (e.g. muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, multiple system atrophy, Parkinson’s disease to name but a few).
  • Acquired brain injury (e.g. due to head trauma following an accident)
  • Stroke

Sensory Integration Difficulties

Many children suffer from sensory integration issues at mealtimes. Some children are unable to tolerate foods that are not smoothly pureed while others tolerate crunchy foods best and others are unable to mix textures. Factors that often influence eating and drinking for individuals with sensory integration difficulties are:

  • Temperatures of foods.
  • Textures of foods.
  • External stimulation
  • Visual presentation of food
  • Smell of food

Behavioural Factors

Mealtimes can be very stressful if you have a child who just won’t eat anything. As parents, we are naturally concerned with nurturing our children and providing them with healthy nutritional food.  It can soon become an emotional roller coaster that ends in tears (usually those of the parents!). Behavioural eating and drinking difficulties usually resolve themselves in time, however it is important to monitor your child’s well-being.  

Seek advice from a professional if your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms:

  • Arching or stiffening of the body during feeding
  • Irritable or unalert during feeding
  • Refusal of food or liquid
  • Failure to accept different textures of food (eg, only pureed foods or crunchy cereals)
  • Chewing difficulty
  • Coughing or gagging during meals
  • Excessive drooling or food/liquid coming out of the mouth or nose
  • Difficulty coordinating breathing with eating and drinking
  • Increased stuffiness during meals
  • A gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice quality
  • Spitting up or vomiting frequently
  • Recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
  • Less than normal weight gain or growth

In addition, parents and caregivers worry that children are not receiving adequate nutrition or are concerned that their children’s diet is too limited. These issues and concerns are common and require strategy and patience to address.