Feeding/swallowing is one of the most complex tasks asked of infants, even those born healthy and full term.
The incidence and prevalence of feeding/swallowing difficulties in infants and children is much higher than most people realize with occurrences in 25 percent to 45 percent of typically developing children, and as high as 30 percent to 80 percent of children with developmental disorders. Premature infants also carry a much higher risk of presenting with feeding/swallowing issues.
In collaboration with a speech-language pathologist, infants and children who are diagnosed early and receive services are more likely to break the cycle of prolonged feeding/swallowing difficulties, which may reduce or eliminate the potential for long-lasting mealtime management.
Speech-language pathologists, with specialized training in feeding and swallowing, provide evaluation and treatment services to infants and children who present with symptoms indicative of possible feeding/swallowing concern.
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Such symptoms may include:
▪ Gastrointestinal symptoms — vomiting, gagging, difficulty with bowel movements, refluxing
▪ Respiratory symptoms — pneumonia, chronic cough, chronic respiratory infections, ear infections
▪ Swallowing symptoms — difficulty chewing foods, initiating a swallow, oral holding, excessive drooling, coughing/choking during eating/drinking, anterior loss, noisy/wet vocal quality or breathing during or after feeding.
Following a thorough evaluation, the speech-language pathologist may work in conjunction with a team of related professionals to determine the underlying reason for the feeding/swallowing difficulty. Some of these professionals may include gastrointestinal specialists, ear, nose and throat physicians, allergists, dietitians, pediatricians, pediatric radiologists and behavior management specialists.
During treatment, the speech-language pathologist will work with the patient and family to develop a plan of care comprised of functional goals with the aim of improving feeding and/or swallowing ability.
The treatment options encompass a variety of techniques including sensory, motor and behavioral approaches. Each plan of care is individualized based on the feeding/swallowing evaluation results and recommendations from members of the treatment team, while centering around the goals of the patient and family.
Early diagnosis and intervention of feeding and swallowing difficulties in infants and children can create positive feeding experiences resulting in lifelong happy, healthy eaters.
Amber Valentine, a speech-language pathologist and a board-certified specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders, practices in the Baptist Health Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Clinic at Brannon Crossing in Nicholasville.