Problems with eating

There can be many 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

Feeding difficulties can be complex, so you may work with a team of professionals that might include:

Eating advice and support

The first step is getting an assessment. If you are in contact with the health professionals, tell them your concerns. If not, contact your local speech and language department, who 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 is a good starting point for getting specialist help.

Mealtimes aren't just about eating. Meals offer 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. But many new babies experience initial problems latching onto the nipple or teat. 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 other babies. 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 for a child with cerebral palsy, so you may need to persist. It can be a frustrating process so ask for support to help your baby to progress from milk, to semi-solids and then chewable food.

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. Being able to choose what and when to eat is one of life's pleasures.

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

Read A-Z of eating difficulties.

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