Pediatric Occupational Therapy, Speech-Language Therapy, And Physical Therapy for Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other special needs

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Feeding Difficulties and Aversions

A feeding aversion refers to a situation where a baby - who is physically capable of feeding or eating - exhibits partial or full food refusal. Babies can develop an aversion to breastfeeding, bottle-feeding and/or solid foods.

A feeding aversion is one of the most complex, confusing and stressful baby-care problems a parent could face.

An aversion involves a conditioned response. Initially the baby\'s fussy or distressed behavior occurs in direct response to the stimulus (the thing or situation causing the feeding experience to be unpleasant, stressful or painful). However, following repeated exposure the baby learns to associate the act of feeding or eating with the stimulus and may then start to fuss or refuse to feed or eat prior to the stimulus occurring. This can make it challenging for parents and health professionals to accurately identify the stimulus.

Failure to identify and eliminate the stimulus means the baby’s conditioned response (aversive behavior in regards to feeding or eating) may continue to be reinforced, and thus the baby\'s fussy feeding behavior or food refusal can continue for weeks, months or years.

Your doctor might refer your baby to a speech therapist to assess her ability to suck and swallow effectively. If your baby feeds well at some feeds for example in a sleepy state, or has fed well in the past prior to developing a feeding aversion, its unlikely that the source of her fussy feeding behavior or food refusal is due a sucking or swallowing problem.

Your doctor might refer your baby to an occupational therapist for assessment of oral aversion due to a sensory processing disorder. To encourage a child with oral aversion occurring due to a sensory processing disorder to feed as normal as possible requires a very long process lasting months or years. If your baby's aversion presents primarily as food avoidance consider the possibility of behavioral causes.

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