Feeding Disorders

A child with a feeding disorder is more than a picky eater. He or she may have a few "safe" foods but will panic when asked to eat any other foods. Other children with feeding disorders may not eat anything. Many children who are transitioning from a feeding tube have challenges adjusting to eating orally. Some may need to learn how to chew and swallow step-by-step. Unlike someone with an eating disorder, feeding disorders are not driven by body image issues. Children with feeding disorders typically range in age from 3 months to 12 years. They often have had serious medical and developmental issues that led them to fear some or all foods.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the country to be staffed with behavior analysts who specialize in feeding disorders and have unique expertise in motivating children, reducing anxiety and disruptive behaviors, and breaking feeding into small steps to individualize treatment for each child. Our speech pathologists and occupational therapists work with children on the mechanics of chewing and swallowing.  They also monitor children for any signs of swallowing difficulty (or “dysphagia”). Registered dietitians ensure that the nutritional needs of children are being met. As a team, these trained professionals work together to treat the full range of feeding disorders.

Symptoms of feeding disorders

Specific feeding issues that are addressed at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital include:

  • Choking/coughing during meals
  • Gagging or vomiting while eating
  • Spitting out food
  • Refusal to eat all or most foods
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight
  • Mealtime distress or tantrums
  • Overreliance on formula or supplement drinks (e.g. Pediasure)
  • Trouble with different textures, sensory problems
  • Refusal or inability to chew or swallow
  • Problems with oral coordination, such as difficulty sucking from a bottle or food spilling from mouth
  • Slow eating, long meal duration
  • Trouble self-feeding

Diagnosis of feeding disorders

Most feeding disorders are first identified by the child’s pediatrician. Our feeding disorders team can then determine the source of the problem — whether it’s a physical issue, a behavioral issue or combination of both. For some children, diagnosis involves a swallow study. During a swallow study, the child eats or drinks a small amount of food or drink that is infused with barium. The swallowing process is then viewed on an X-ray to ensure that the food or drink is not going into the child’s airway.

Treatment of feeding disorders

A personalized treatment plan is developed for each child. Some children will work with a speech pathologist or occupational therapist who will teach them the oral skills needed to chew and swallow. Other children will work with a behavior analyst who helps children overcome the anxiety and disruptive behavior that gets in the way of successful eating. Many children will work with both. Treatment plans take into account the priorities of each family and focus on improving your child’s quality of life.

Parents play an important role in treatment. Your child’s team will work with you to help you understand your child’s feeding disorder and the treatment plan. Parents are usually present during sessions so that they can learn what works with their child. Parents are then provided with strategies to continue the work and success during treatment sessions once they’re at home. Parents are often provided with exercises to help their child overcome any physical challenges related to eating. They are also given support and knowledge to understand how to deal with any eating-related behavioral issues.

Long-term care for children with feeding disorders

Overcoming a feeding disorder can take time, and definitely requires patience. The Mott Feeding Disorders team works with patients and families until the child is able to eat a variety of foods and food textures successfully. We continue to support our families whenever they have questions or concerns.

Why choose Mott Children’s Hospital?

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of only a few hospitals in the country to offer this multidisciplinary approach to treating feeding disorders, and the only hospital in the state of Michigan with behavior analysts specializing in feeding disorders. In addition, the Mott Feeding Disorders team is able to easily consult with your child’s specialty physicians at Mott (e.g. gastroenterologist, pulmonologist, cardiologist, surgeon) for more coordinated, better care. Using an evidenced-based treatment approach, the professionals at Mott work with children and their families to overcome feeding disorders and embark on a healthy life.

Take the next step:

To make an appointment or learn more about the Feeding Disorders program, call 734-936-4220.