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Learning About Feeding Disorders in Infants

What are feeding disorders?

Your infant may have a feeding disorder if he or she is having problems with taking in breast milk or formula. You or your doctor may have noticed that your baby isn't gaining weight.

There are many reasons why a baby might not be eating. Your baby might need more time or help to learn feeding skills. Your baby could have a problem with his or her stomach or intestines. Allergies can also cause feeding problems. Whatever the reason, your doctor will work with you on solutions.

What are the symptoms?

Infants who have a feeding disorder may:

  • Arch or stiffen their back during feeding.
  • Suck weakly.
  • Drool, gag, or cough while feeding.
  • Often spit out breast milk or formula.
  • Vomit.
  • Feed for longer than 30 minutes.
  • Not gain weight, or gain weight slowly.

How are feeding disorders diagnosed?

The doctor will examine your baby and ask you questions about your baby's feeding history.

The doctor may order tests, such as an X-ray or an endoscopy. A thin, flexible, lighted viewing tool (endoscope) is used to examine the inside of organs, canals, and cavities in the body. Your baby may also have a swallowing test. This test checks how well your baby's throat muscles work. This test can make sure that your baby doesn't have a swallowing problem.

How are feeding disorders treated?

Treatment will depend on the reason for the problem. It can also depend on how severe the problem is.

The main goals of treatment will be to help your baby eat and swallow safely while getting good nutrition. Some babies will grow out of a feeding problem without any treatment. Other babies may need feeding tubes put into their bodies to make sure they get enough food. Some babies may get medicine if acid reflux is causing the problems. Sometimes just a change in the position of your baby's body or head can make eating easier.

Your baby may have a treatment team. This team may include a pediatrician, a specialist, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, and a dietitian.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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