How Do I Know My Child Has a Feeding or Swallowing Problem?   

Feeding problems can come in all shapes and sizes and can affect a child at any age from the premature infant to the young adult. Some caregivers aren’t sure if their child has a problem but feel that feeding their child is difficult or stressful.This can be a very frustrating and lonely problem to have but there are many things that can help your child be a successful feeder!

What Does a Feeding or Swallowing Problem Look Like?  

  • Difficulty with bottle or breast feeding. This could be poor latch to the nipple, difficulty maintaining latch, or frequent pulling off the nipple.
  • Crying, irritability or seeming uncomfortable after a feeding.
  • Infant who eats better while asleep.
  • Difficulty controlling liquid or food with spillage out of the mouth while eating.
  • Food or liquid coming out the nose while eating.
  • Coughing or choking with liquids or solids.
  • Swallowing food whole instead of chewing.
  • Holding food in the cheeks or spitting out food instead of chewing and swallowing the bite.
  • Extreme picky eating, eating only carbs, or refusing entire food groups such as fruits, vegetables, and proteins.
  • Eating the same foods every day and refusing to try new foods (having to make your child a different meal from the family).
  • Gagging or vomiting during or after meals.
  • Not eating enough to gain weight and thrive.
  • Grazing or eating only small amounts frequently.
  • Difficulty moving from bottle or breast feeding to cup drinking.
  • Need for a high calorie supplement or tube feeding.
  • Difficulty swallowing which might appear as choking, coughing or frequent respiratory infections.
  • Allergies or intolerance to foods.
  • Not eating due to complaints of stomach ache or pain.
  • Poor appetite, never hungry, skips meals.


What Can I Do To Help My Child?  

Start by talking with your pediatrician or primary care provider. They can look at your child’s weight and growth and help you determine if your child would benefit from seeing a feeding team or feeding specialist. Talk with your provider about your concerns. It may be helpful to bring a food journal of what your child is eating and drinking over 3 days. This may help identify problems and illustrate your concerns.


Trust Your Instincts- many of our parents tell us they had concerns long before they were referred. if you are concerned about your child’s eating and/or growth, ask your doctor to refer your child for a feeding and swallowing evaluation. Most children are best served by starting with a feeding team but if you do not have a team near you, there are many professionals that help children with different types of feeding problems including:   

  • multidisciplinary feeding team (usually found in a children’s hospital)
  • a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and in some cases physical therapist
  • a developmental pediatrician, gastroenterologist or nurse practitioner
  • registered dietitian
  • psychologist


If you are concerned about your child, you will never regret having an evaluation, even if the clinician or team tells you everything is fine.


Getting Help


There are many things that can help your child be a successful feeder! This might involve medical and nutritional management, testing in some cases, and feeding therapy.