Feeding and Swallowing Disorder

Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorders

Infants and toddlers development is not always predictable. Fortunately, some disorders are easier to spot than others. For example, a child with a pediatric feeding disorder may have trouble picking up food and placing it in her mouth. Maybe she struggles to keep the food in her mouth, or cannot completely close her lips. Perhaps the child cannot gather her food. This is what’s called a Feeding Disorder.

It could be that your child has difficult ingesting her food, or worse: she has no concept of how to suck, chew, or swallow it. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, your child may have Dysphagia, which is a swallowing disorder.

Either disorder is problematic. Pediatric feeding disorders can impede newborn nutrition and negatively impact infant development. Similarly, feeding disorders in children have consequences on child nutrition.

Feeding and swallowing problems leave children at risk for:

  • Aspiration (food or drink entering the airway)
  • Dehydration
  • Poor nutrition
  • Shame & embarrassment during social situations that require eating



Infant feeding disorders can be very worrisome. Nutrition is an important part of infant toddler development. Are you worried that your child might have a feeding or swallowing problem? This checklist should help you determine whether your child needs to be screened:

Regularly refusing food or liquid  
Irritability or lack of alertness during feeding  
Abnormal difficulty breast feeding  
Very long feeding times (more than half an hour)  
Coughing or gagging during meals  
Excessive drooling  
Food/liquid coming out of mouth or nose  
Gurgley, hoarse or breathy voice quality  
Frequent spitting up or vomitting  
Recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections  
Less than normal weight gain or growth  

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association


If your child suffers from any of the symptoms/problems above, it is imperative that you contact your pediatrician immediately. Doctors can examine for the feeding & swallowing difficulties and strategize a course of treatment. Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) are especially adept at treating feeding and swallowing disorders. They will perform an elaborate assessment designed to evaluate your child’s feeding and swallowing habits and decide on treatment.


  • Nervous system disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Autism
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Medications that produce lethargy or decreased appetite
  • Neck and head abnormalities


Feeding and Swallowing Problems in Children with Special Needs

Sometimes, a child who shows signs of autism might have a feeding and swallowing disorder. However, there are multiple signs of autism: only a specialist can determine whether your child is displaying autism signs. Signs of autism in children manifest in many different ways; a feeding and/or swallowing disorder is not the only symptom to look at. Autistic children may have specific challenges with eating and swallowing. Fortunately there are a variety of techniques for treating feeding and swallowing problems for children on the autism spectrum.

For answers about what is autism, see: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism



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