Problems with eating

There can be a number of reasons why someone may be having difficulty eating. Possible causes include:

  • structural abnormalities
  • psychological or behavioural conditions
  • motor or sensory impairments
  • or something unrelated to a condition

Due to the diverse nature of such difficulties, you may work with a multi-disciplinary team that might include:

Eating advice and support

If you're a disabled person with concerns about eating or you're a carer concerned about someone you know, then it's important to seek advice and support. The first step is getting an assessment. You may already be in contact with the health professionals, who will form part of the multi-disciplinary team. If so, you can tell them your concerns.

Alternatively, contact your local speech and language department, they will have access to a therapist specialising in eating. If you are finding it difficult to get help or are not sure who to talk to, your GP's a good starting point for getting specialist help.

Mealtimes aren't just about eating, but can also be a great opportunity for communication and social interaction. They should be enjoyable occasions and as stress-free as possible.

Feeding in the early years

Some babies with cerebral palsy may experience difficulties with sucking, either from the breast or bottle. Many new babies experience initial problems latching onto the nipple or teat so that does not necessarily imply that a baby has cerebral palsy. Seek early advice on any feeding difficulty. Nursing staff on the maternity ward are often able to assist. There may even be a specialist nurse advisor available. Once the baby is home, the Health Visitor should be able to advise if the problem persists.

Unless there's a good medical reason not to, babies with cerebral palsy or similar impairments should start to be weaned at the same age as babies without the condition. Current recommendations are that this should start around 5-6 months.

The baby's health visitor should be able to advise on issues to do with weaning. The speech and language therapist can also help. Weaning may take longer than it would for a child who doesn't have cerebral palsy, and considerable persistence may be needed. It can be a frustrating process and so the person responsible for helping the baby to progress from milk, to semi-solids and then chewable food, may need a lot of support.

Many babies with cerebral palsy find eating semi-solid food easier than sucking and so may thrive better once they have begun to be weaned. Avoid prolonged use of bottle-feeding but not at the expense of nutritional or fluid intake.

Growing up and gaining more independence

Many people would prefer to be able to sit at the table and feed themselves, even if it takes longer or is messier than being assisted to eat. Being able to choose what you eat and when to eat it is one of life's pleasures for many people.

Most children will learn to feed themselves to some degree eventually. Taking the time and effort to help a person to develop these skills can sometimes also help them in other ways, such as language development, greater awareness of position and movements and hand-eye co-ordination.

Read A-Z of eating difficulties.

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