When your baby isn’t eating –or isn’t eating enough –, infant swallowing disorders may be the problem. Known as dysphagia, swallowing problems may make it difficult for the child to retain food. Our practice takes care of infants who are experiencing these difficulties, and we know how hard it is for parents to handle feeding disorders. Please call to schedule an appointment for your baby.

Types of Dysphagia

Infant swallowing disorders will surface in one or more of these three stages in the eating process.

Oral Stage. An infant may have trouble sucking or moving liquid into the throat. Older babies have trouble chewing or cannot move solids.
Pharyngeal Stage. To move the food, the infant must squeeze liquid down the throat. This requires closing off the airway. When this is difficult for the baby, coughing and choking occur.
Esophageal Stage. Once the food makes it to the esophagus, it should move into the stomach. If it can’t, the infant may throw up.

swallowing disorders in premature infantSymptoms of Dysphagia

Infants can’t tell you what’s wrong, but their behavior may indicate it. These signs may be scary, such as when a child has trouble breathing while he or she is breastfeeding or taking a bottle. It may be repeated coughing and gagging during meals. It may be that the child spits up during meals or throws up after meals. Drooling may indicate a lack of swallowing reflex. Liquid coming out of the mouth or nose during feeding is another tell-tale sign.

Some signs aren’t as obvious. During feeding, the infant may become fussy or cry. She may simply fall asleep or eat much more slowly than other children the same age. A baby who arches his back while feeding is letting you know that something is wrong. As the infant grows into an older baby, she may have trouble chewing. His voice may change after meals, becoming hoarse or gurgly. Swallowing disorders sometimes cause babies to prefer certain textures, which can be mistaken for being picky.

Dangers of Swallowing Disorder in Children, Toddlers and Infants

When food or liquid enters the child’s airway, choking is a major danger. This aspiration can contribute to other problems such as pneumonia and lung infections.

Dehydration occurs when the child won’t drink or can’t retain liquids. Malnutrition is also a big problem for children with dysphagia. Swallowing disorders in premature infants add more layers to their difficulties.

Infant swallowing disorders lead to learning disabilities if they aren’t caught early and appropriately addressed. Swallowing disorders in toddlers are similarly problematic. Children who aren’t absorbing nutrients won’t meet their developmental milestones.

What Causes Swallowing Disorder in Child or Baby?

Short term problems could be related to something like a medicine that makes a child too sleep to deal with hunger. It may be reflux or another stomach problem that needs medical intervention. We may need to address an underlying breathing problem, such as asthma.
There may be structural issues such as a cleft lip or palate. A child may have head and neck problems, including muscle weakness. In rare cases, there is an underlying issue. This includes nervous system disorders, heart disease, and autism that may affect swallowing.

Treatment for Dysphagia

After thorough diagnostic review of your infant’s problems, we may recommend a variety of approaches depending on the child’s immediate and long term needs.
Feeding therapy may focus on teaching a child to suck or to breath while sucking. Recommended occupational therapies may include feeding or swallowing treatments to teach the child to move her tongue or to chew. Parents will get advice about feeding positions, behavioral strategies, and nutrition. If the child has reflux, a medication may be prescribed.

Let Pediatric ENT Help

If your infant is struggling with swallowing problems, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. We will work with you to improve the immediate and long-term health of your baby.