Feeding therapy is weekly treatment with our trained occupational therapists that can provide therapy, support, tools, strategies, and parent education to improve your child’s ability to eat a variety of food safely and consistently.
Feeding therapy can benefit infants, toddlers, and children who have a variety of difficulty with eating and drinking. This can be related to limited food repertoire, weak oral musculature, medical complications, or sensory processing issues.
What types of individuals are treated in feeding therapy?
Some infants may have issues with breast-feeding and bottle-feeding including difficulty with latching or maintaining a latch, significant loss of liquid while bottle or breast-feeding, or an infant that appears uncoordinated or uncomfortable. An infant may appear to have no bottle or breast-feeding issues, however, are not gaining weight. Not gaining weight can signify an underlying issue that a feeding therapist can assist with.
Sensory Processing Issues
Sensory processing issues may lead to sensitivity to certain smells, tastes, textures, or temperatures. You may see a child gag at the sight, touch, or taste of certain foods. Other children may refuse to eat a food that appears differently than what they typically eat. For example, a chicken nugget from Burger King instead of McDonalds.
Oral Motor Deficits
Oral motor deficits are issues related to how the muscles of your mouth and face move and coordinate, and how strong they are. Signs that your child may have oral motor deficits include avoiding or spitting out chewy/hard foods, not moving their tongue from side to side while eating, or excessive drooling. We treat lots of children for occupational and physical therapy due to limited strength for their big muscles, so we shouldn’t forget about these little muscles that need to be strong to eat and talk with.
Medical complications that can impact feeding include children that aspirate-meaning their food or liquid is going down incorrectly and into their lungs, and/or g-tube placements, which is a tube that goes to their stomach since they are not receiving all their nutrients from eating. Dependent on your child, they may benefit from therapy to assist with improving their strength and coordination to safely chew and swallow, as well as reduce chance of oral sensory aversions when food is not eaten orally.
Often there are more than one issue leading to difficulty with eating. It is common to see a child gag or refuse food secondary to sensory processing issues, who may also have an immature chewing pattern impacting their progression with foods. Our trained feeding therapists can help you investigate what is causing these issued.
Most parents will have moments where their child refuses to eat their vegetables or the dinner that has been cooked. And that does not necessarily mean they need feeding therapy. However, children who only have 5 foods per food group, or less than 20 foods in their diet could benefit from feeding therapy. Children may continue to gain weight normally, however, that does not always mean they are receiving all the nutrition they need for a growing brain and body!
Fun fact: It takes 25 steps for some children to EAT food!
When should I seek out help?
First, think about where your child is developmentally. What should your child be eating based on their age? Are they a 2-year-old who is still unable to chew solid food? How are mealtimes at home? Is it stressful time of the day leading to meltdowns, and refusals to participate in typical mealtime interactions?
If your child is already being treated for therapy at Pediatric Therapy Services, talk to your treating therapist on what the next steps are to receive a feeding evaluation with one of our trained occupational therapists.
If you have further questions or concerns, please speak to your primary care provider and discuss if a referral is needed.
What do I bring to my child's feeding evaluation?
You are not required to bring anything to your evaluation. Our receptionists will provide you a Feeding Questionnaire (or you can print and fill one out to bring in with you), that will allow you to provide us additionally information prior to the in-person evaluation with yourself and your child.
If your child has any allergies, it is helpful to bring in personal food to allow your therapist to assess their feeding skills.