Feeding Problems

Feeding problems are quite common in children and nothing to worry on it. But if your child is not having food consistently, it may be a sign of any health issue. Lets discuss the causes of feeding problems and how it can be solved.

Last Updated: 23 October 2020

Feeding Problems
Feeding Problems
What does feeding problem mean?

Feeding problems can be defined as the inability or refusal of an infant in eating certain types of foods. It is estimated that feeding problems happen in 25% of normally developing children and in 35% of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Early recognition of feeding problems helps in managing the issue easier.

It is quite natural that infants are picky eaters and refuse new foods initially and they end up spitting up. These are temporary problems. But problems like vomiting, gagging and food allergies indicate medical issues that need attention before it affects infant’s health.

Signs and symptoms of feeding problems

Sometimes feeding problems may happen when a child is unable to chuck, swallow or chew. The following are the signs of feeding problems which may vary depending upon whether the issue is mild or serious.

Arching the back and body while feeding

Inadequate weight gain

Lack of alertness when feeding

Food refusal

Taking too longer time for feeding

Difficulty with breastfeeding and bottle feed

Facing breathing issues while eating and drinking

Frequent spitting up and vomiting

Parent not able to visualise age appropriate food pattern in a child (example unable to eat table foods by 12 months)


Causes of feeding problems Medical reasons:

1. Premature babies: It may take some time for premature and low birth weight babies to learn the skills needed to suck and swallow milk. Other conditions like jaundice and infections can lead to poor feeding in infants.

2. Some temporary illness like diarrhea, infections, cough and cold

3. Congenital illness: Congenital hypothyroidism can lead to feeding problems.

4. Swallowing disorders can occur at any stage during an infant’s swallowing process:

  • Oral Stage: This stage comprises of sucking, chewing, and moving foods and/or liquids to the throat
  • Pharyngeal Stage: This is the stage when the infant begins to swallow and move food down the throat. Problems can happen when the infant closes off the throat to prevent it from going into the airway, which can prevent choking
  • Esophageal Stage: This stage involves relaxing and tightening the openings of the esophagus and pushing food into the stomach.

5. Other causes of feeding problems are a baby having heart disease, head and neck abnormalities, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

6. Birth defects like Down syndrome, Cleft lip and/or cleft palate

7. Seizures and other neurological disorders

The non-medical conditions of feeding problems may be lack of attention from parents, the child is scared or stressed over something, and baby is not comfortable with the taste and texture of food.

How to diagnose feeding problems?

If you feel your child has feeding problems consistently, it is good to consult a pediatrician. The pediatrician will carry out a complete physical examination to find if there is a medical reason.

If necessary you will be directed to a speech language pathologist. The therapist enquiries with you about the eating pattern and the type of food your child consumes. She will evaluate child’s mouth and face and checks child’s eating ability.

Treatment for feeding problems

Treatment depends upon the severity of the issue. A doctor may recommend the following.

Personalized feeding therapy

Food drinks that are safe for infants

Advice to try different food varieties and modify food texture

Will make changes in nutritional pattern

Teaching the skill to place the infant in safe eating and drinking positions

Techniques to manage child’s behavior while eating

Mouth exercises and chewing exercises

Medications, if necessary


Strategies that parents can try to overcome feeding problems


Here are few things that parents can try to overcome the infant feeding problems.

When you are breastfeeding make sure that baby is able to latch well and get adequate milk.

During bottle feeding, create a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for the infant. If the baby does not bottle feed from the mother, a father can try feeding the child. Sometimes this approach will work.

While bottle feeding, proper positioning of the baby is very essential.

Try different nipples and find which works best for your baby.

If you notice milk intolerance, you can consult a pediatrician and try formula feeds.

Be sure that your child is hungry before trying any foods.

Try different foods and use cookie cutters to make vegetables more attractive.

 Feeding problems are quite common. But if you notice weight loss and other physical abnormalities, it may be a sign of illness and it is better to consult a pediatrician immediately. 

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