While it may seem obvious to many, feeding time can be stressful and challenging for some infants. Difficulty chewing food, swallowing food, gagging on food, being fussy during feeding time, and vomiting after having food are signs that the infant needs feeding therapy.
Such behavior limits the child’s ability to enjoy mealtime experience, eat and meet their nutritional needs. Through Pediatric Occupational Therapy, several skills and behaviors can be developed to help the infant progress with eating various foods. Infant feeding therapy includes:
1. Evaluating the feeding infant’s history
The therapy seeks to identify emotional, cognitive, sensory, and oral feeding milestones not met by a child. The evaluation comprises a defined and complete assessment of the child’s feeding history as reported by the parent and observed by the physician.
This includes the experience of the child-eating certain meals and can narrow down to the meal and feeding behavior of the child the past few days. For children with aspiration, the therapists can even ask for a copy of a swallow study.
The evaluation may also assess the current diet, in-home mealtime picture, cultural considerations, and concerns raised by the caregiver.
2. Development of hierarchy of the child’s feeding skills and behavior
Some of the skills therapists focus on include chewing, swallowing, and even oral motor exercises. The goal is also to change the infant’s behavior around new types of foods or certain foods. The treatment approach is based on the findings of the evaluation and their method of administering treatment.
Therapists use a wide range of motor, behavioral, and sensory models depending on the best fit for a child. Examples of the approaches they use include the “Get Permission.” The approach is based on the principle of building a trusting feeding relationship. The therapist, in this case, reads the child’s cues and takes action as the child gives permission. This relies on body language.
There is also the Beckman Oral Motor approach employed in cases where the infants have motor barriers. This is to enhance their response to movement to support feeding. The Behavioral Approach relies on a reward system whereby they are rewarded when they take a bite of food.
3. Examples of infant feeding goals
Parents who seek infant feeding therapy have various goals. The evaluation of an infant’s feeding history and development of the hierarchy of feeding skills and behavior are designed to achieve goals such as:
- Reducing mealtime tantrums
- Equipping parents with different feeding techniques
- Improving the ability of the child to bite and chew food
- Enabling proper feeding position to maintain safety during mealtime
- Increasing the child’s acceptance of new diets
- Increasing the child’s drinking ability
- Improving the movement and coordination of the mouth to support feeding
- Identify products that can improve feeding and swallowing.
Parents with infants that exhibit food selectivity, mealtime tantrums, difficulty biting, chewing, or swallowing food and liquid intake can benefit from feeding therapy. It involves an evaluation of the child’s feeding behavior and treatment to achieve goals like reduced tantrums, acceptance of new diets, and better movement and coordination of the mouth to enable feeding.