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Feeding Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood

What is feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood?

Feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood is when an infant or a child under 6 years old refuses to eat enough to be healthy. It is not due to a medical condition such as a stomach problem. As a result of feeding disorder, the infant or child fails to gain weight normally.

Children with this disorder who are not treated may get very sick and even die. Most children with this disorder who are treated do well and develop normally over time.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. The risk is greater for children who are:

  • Born prematurely or had a low birth weight
  • Developmentally delayed
  • Fed too much or not fed when they are hungry
  • Abused or neglected

What are the symptoms?

If symptoms last for at least a month, your child may have feeding disorder. Symptoms may include:

  • Eating only a few foods or refusing to eat solid foods or liquids
  • Irritability and crying
  • Temper tantrums during meals
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight and grow normally
  • Choking or vomiting when eating
  • Trouble swallowing some food textures

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have tests to check for other possible causes of symptoms, such as problems with the nervous system, stomach, or intestines.

If your child is an infant, a trained specialist, usually a nurse, will watch you feed your infant.

How is it treated?

The first step is usually to increase the number of calories your child eats. This may be done with high-calorie formula or other special foods and liquids. It is important to make sure that your child gets all needed nutrients for healthy growth.

If symptoms are severe, your child may need to be treated in the hospital. Treatment usually involves a team approach. The team may include healthcare providers, a dietitian, a social worker, and a behavior specialist. Your child may need to be fed through an IV (a tube placed in a vein) or an NG tube (a tube placed through the nose into the stomach) until he or she can eat normally.

Changing when and how often your child is fed, the texture of foods, or the position of your child’s body while feeding may help. Do not try to force your child to eat or punish your child for not eating.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-05
Last reviewed: 2014-06-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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