Feeding Disorders

A child with a feeding disorder is more than a picky eater. Children with feeding disorders often have had serious medical and developmental issues that led them to fear some or all foods. 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.

Often times when presented with food, children with feeding disorders will engage in refusal behaviors (crying, screaming, pushing away the spoon, etc.). Many children with feeding disorders have struggled with weight gain, may have nutritional deficits, rely on formula for nutrition, or have a feeding tube. 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.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of only a few hospitals in the country to offer this interdisciplinary approach in the treatment of feeding disorders. All staff are highly trained in behavior analysis, which gives the program unique expertise in motivating children, reducing anxiety and disruptive behaviors, and breaking feeding into small steps to individualize treatment for each child.

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.

Symptoms of Feeding Disorders

Children with feeding disorders typically range in age from 3 months to 12 years.

Specific feeding issues that are addressed by the Interdisciplinary Pediatric Feeding Program 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 motor coordination, such as difficulty sucking from a bottle or food spilling from mouth
  • Slow eating, long meal duration
  • Trouble self-feeding
  • Food selectivity or extreme picky eating (only eating from 1 food group or only eating 1-2 foods) that leads to nutritional deficiencies

Diagnosing Feeding Disorders

Parents are often the first to recognize that their child is not eating like other children. Our feeding disorders team will help to determine the source of the problem — whether it’s a physical issue, an oral-motor issue, a behavioral issue or a combination of issues. 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

The Interdisciplinary Pediatric Feeding Program at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to the assessment and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders from birth to adulthood. We offer many levels of care to address each child's unique needs, and a personalized treatment plan is developed for each child.

Based on information we initially receive about your child's feeding difficulty, we will schedule them for an evaluation in one of our three clinics:

  • Intensive treatment for children who need to be weaned from a feeding tube or to prevent the placement of a feeding tube
  • Outpatient treatment for children who are able to make progression with less intensive treatment or children who have graduated from our day treatment program
  • Consultation services for children with an autism spectrum disorder who are receiving ABA treatment from a local provider. 

Our team includes experts from psychology, speech and language pathology, nutrition, and medicine. Some children will work with a speech-language pathologist who will teach them the oral motor 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. Most families will work with a dietitian to ensure their child's nutritional needs are met. Many children will work with a combination of these professionals. Treatment plans take into account the priorities of each family and focus on improving each child’s quality of life.

Parents play an important role in treatment. Each child’s team will work with parents and caregivers to help them understand each individual 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 and a nutrition plan to continue treatment at home. In addition, 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 of Feeding Disorders

Overcoming a feeding disorder can take time, and definitely requires patience. Our providers within the Interdisciplinary Pediatric Feeding Program work with patients and families until each child is able to eat a variety of foods and textures successfully. We continue to support our families whenever they have questions or concerns.

Appointments & More Information

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