Addressing Pediatric Eating Disorders in Infants
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Addressing Pediatric Eating Disorders in Infants

As parents, one of our greatest joys is nourishing our little ones and watching them grow and thrive with each passing day. However, for some families, the journey of feeding their infants can be fraught with challenges and uncertainties in the form of pediatric eating disorders (PFDs).

PFDs encompass a range of challenges related to feeding and nutrition in the earliest stages of life. They may manifest as difficulties with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, refusal to eat, aversions to certain textures or tastes, or challenges with weight gain and growth. It’s estimated that more than 1 in 37 children under the age of 5 in the United States  have PFDs. For these infants and children, every bite of food can be painful, scary, or impossible, potentially impeding nutrition, development, growth, and overall well-being.

Some common indicators of PFDs may include:

Leaking food: Whether they’re on the bottle or the breast, milk or formula regularly  leaks from your baby’s mouth during feeding. 

Blisters on the lips: Persistent blisters on an infant’s lips may be a sign of a latching issue.

Persistent refusal to eat: Your baby consistently turns away from the breast or bottle, displaying disinterest or distress during feeding attempts.

Limited weight gain: Your baby is not gaining weight at a healthy rate or is falling behind on growth charts.

Frequent spitting up or vomiting: Your baby experiences frequent episodes of spitting up or vomiting, which may indicate underlying feeding difficulties or reflux.

Excessive crying or irritability: Your baby becomes fussy, agitated, or inconsolable during or after feeding sessions.

Avoidance of certain textures or flavors: Your baby shows aversions to specific textures, tastes, or feeding utensils.

Worried about your child’s eating habits?
Click here for a questionnaire that will help you better understand your child’s feeding habits and identify any areas of concern regarding your child’s feeding that you should address with your child’s physician.

 

While the exact cause of disorders varies from one infant to another, some common factors that often contribute to the issue include:

Oral Motor Development: Difficulties with oral motor skills, such as sucking, swallowing, and chewing, can impact an infant's ability to breastfeed or bottle-feed effectively. Conditions such as tongue tie, cleft palate, or muscle weakness can interfere with the coordination necessary for successful feeding.

Gastrointestinal Issues: Infants may experience discomfort or pain related to gastrointestinal issues such as reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or gastrointestinal infections. These conditions can affect their appetite, feeding patterns, and overall feeding experience.

Sensory Sensitivities: Some infants may have sensory sensitivities to certain textures, tastes, or temperatures of food. These sensitivities can lead to aversions or refusal to eat certain foods, making feeding a challenging experience for both the infant and the caregiver.

Medical Conditions: Underlying medical conditions, such as allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, metabolic disorders, or congenital anomalies, can affect an infant's appetite, digestion, and nutrient absorption. These conditions may require specialized medical management and dietary interventions.

Developmental Delays: Infants with developmental delays or neurological conditions, such as autism, may experience delays in the development of feeding skills, leading to difficulties with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. These infants may require additional support and interventions to promote feeding success.

If you suspect that your infant is struggling with feeding issues, it's crucial to seek support from healthcare professionals promptly.

Members of SVMC’s Early Intervention and Children’s Integrated Services team can help assess your child’s situation and direct you to the most appropriate resources.

In many cases, a speech pathologist can identify oral motor issues and provide exercises that help overcome weakness that are limiting eating or otherwise negatively impacting the eating experience.  They are also able to recognize issues, such as a lip or tongue tie, and advise on next steps.

Many families also benefit from working with a nutritionist and/or dietician to ensure their child gets the nutrition needed to keep their growth and development on track.

Regardless of the type of help or support needed, the key is to reach out as soon as you recognize or suspect an issue.

Above all, remember that feeding your baby is a journey filled with love, patience, and understanding. Stay patient and positive and remember that you're doing your best to support your child's health and well-being. Seeking support can help your child thrive and develop a healthy relationship with food that can last a lifetime.

For questions about pediatric eating disorders or services, contact Jennie Moon at SVMC’s Early Intervention and Children’s Integrated Services at (802) 447-2768 ext. 5841.

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