Feeding Disorders or Difficulties

Also known as: feeding problems, picky eating, food fads, restrictive eating

What are feeding disorders or difficulties?

The terms feeding disorders or feeding difficulties are frequently used to refer to infants and children who have problems with eating enough and/or an appropriate variety of foods. This increases their risk for abnormal physical, cognitive, behavioral and psychological development and can place a strain on family finances.

What causes feeding disorders or difficulties?

In infants, feeding difficulties commonly result from:

  • prematurity
  • swallowing problems
  • establishing nipple feelings
  • gastroesophageal reflux (where's all amounts of stomach contents and stomach acid goes back up the food pipe causing pain).
Most babies will improve with time and when necessary, medications.

In older children, feeding disorders usually occur as a result of medical conditions (like food allergies). The following mealtime behaviors are also typically seen in children:

  • picky eating (not interested in foods)
  • fussy eating (changes food choices frequently)
  • food refusal (consistently refuses a range of foods)
  • food phobia (afraid to try new foods)
  • restricted variety of foods (usually won't eat one or more types of food)

What are the symptoms of feeding disorders or difficulties?

Along with simply having trouble eating, infants/children may choke, vomit or gag when eating. They may throw tantrums at mealtime. A child with a feeding disorder that persists can have problems with their physical and mental development over time.

What are feeding disorders or difficulties care options?

Successful treatment will vary depending on the age of the baby/child and on the nature of the feeding disorder or difficulty. Nursing mothers may need education, a lactation specialist and pediatrician input.

Children with severe feeding difficulties may need different strategies with a variety of health specialists involved including pediatrician, dietitian, speech pathologist, psychologist and social worker. Some children may need medication or surgery, or even a feeding tube to get the proper nutrients for growth.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: March 11, 2020 03:33 PM

Communication and Feeding Difficulties: Does My Child Have Autism Spectrum Disorder?

April 14, 2021 – Why is my child not communicating? Why are mealtimes such a battle? These are some of the questions that speech-language therapists are asked when first meeting families seeking therapy for a young child. Sometimes, it is not just a lack of “speech” or difficulties eating that are the focus of our evaluation. Sometimes we are the first to tell parents or caregivers that the child has what we call “red flags for autism.”