When your baby is not eating well, an Infant Feeding Specialist can help

July 29, 2023

Babies are born to eat - but sometimes they have trouble learning HOW to eat. If your baby is having trouble with breast, bottle, or tube feeding, a feeding specialist can help your baby advance in the necessary feeding skills as well as help you to better understand everything that goes into successful and positive feeding to feel confident and most of all - enjoy feeding your baby

What exactly does a feeding specialist do?

Feeding specialists (most often trained as speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists) support babies and their families in the act of feeding. They take into consideration all aspects of feeding - from the method (breast, bottle, tube), who, when, where and HOW.

Feeding specialists assess and support a baby’s

  • oral motor skills necessary for feeding (sucking, latch, cheek/tongue/lips movements)
  • swallow and safety for breathing
  • sensory systems (hypersensitive/hyposensitive, engagement)
  • internal systems (sleep, digestion, respiratory, heart)

Many parents know of or have worked with lactation consultants or dieticians/nutritionists to support their baby with feeding. Lactation consultants most often support breastfeeding mothers - focusing on milk supply, nursing positions and latch, and pumping. Dieticians and nutritionists focus on a baby’s weight and tracking weight gain. Their focus is calories and volume of feeds in order for the baby to grow.

Feeding specialists, however, take on a more comprehensive and whole-child role and approach with feeding no matter HOW the baby feeds.

The other main aspect of a feeding specialist’s role is to look at the feeding interaction and support the caregivers who are feeding the baby in how to tune into the baby’s cuesUnderstanding the signs & symptoms of hunger, fullness, overwhelm and state to create a trusting and positive experience with feeding.

Eating is a developmental process. As a child grows and develops, new skills are learned to continue to advance the child’s overall development and abilities. When a child has difficulty eating, it means that certain developmental skills are either paused or not yet developed. The feeding specialist will begin to teach the step by step process to support each individual’s child skill set and areas of challenge with the overall and constant long term goal of mealtime success and healthy eating.

Possible signs your baby may be having challenges with feeding:

  • Is not gaining weight or growing (or is losing weight)
  • Refuses the milk by turning away, pushing away, closing mouth
  • Spits up or vomits a lot (quantity) or often (frequency)
  • Cries or fusses, or arches back when feeding
  • Has trouble breathing while feeding
  • Has a gurgly, breathy, or hoarse voice during or after feeds
  • Coughs frequently when feeding
  • Falls asleep right after starting a feed
  • Feeds better when sleeping than awake
  • Feeding is not getting easier - a constant struggle for baby and you

Conditions that may lead to feeding and swallowing disorders:

  • Being born premature or having a low birth weight
  • Diagnoses like Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Conditions related to breathing, digestion, heart, seizures
  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Reflux or other stomach/digestion/GI problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Taking medicines for different conditions (seizures, heart condition, reflux, etc.)

During the feeding session, the feeding specialist may support with:

  • Oral motor muscles and oral aversion desensitizing/gag reflex
  • Oral motor skills for feeding with breast or bottle (latch, suck, swallow, breath)
  • Hunger/fullness development
  • Moving towards oral feeds for tube-fed babies
  • Swallowing strategies to reduce aspiration or choking
  • Understanding and determining best feeding system including shields, bottles/nipples, cups, and spoons
  • Feeding techniques to improve meal time behavior, acceptance, efficiency of eating, and overall enjoyment of meals
  • Reflecting on parenting roles, expectations, and experience while feeding

Feeding a baby is the most important task of new parents.  The most important thing to know about feeding support sessions is that your feeding specialist is a resource for you and your family.  During sessions, your feeding specialist will educate, support, and cheer your family on in any way possible with HOW to help your child overcome feeding challenges and to thrive.