Cerebral Palsy Eating and Feeding Tips
Children with cerebral palsy often need additional assistance when eating. The following tips can help make daily meal times a bit easier.
Feeding a Child with Cerebral Palsy
According to Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Manual for Therapists, Parents and Community Workers, numerous infants and children with cerebral palsy experience difficulties when eating and drinking. Some kids will only have minor issues, whereas others have severe oral motor disorders and will need significant help.
Meal times with children who have cerebral palsy, regardless of how severe the disorder is, can last much longer than the average mealtime. Even with longer meal times, some children still will not get the nutrition that they need. Numerous medical studies in the past have shown that children with cerebral palsy have a high chance of suffering some degree of malnutrition.
To help your child learn about feeding and get adequate nutrition, you’ll need to introduce food and eating in a positive way. Make sure your child can see the plate and food clearly, and consider purchasing child-friendly, colorful plates and utensils. You may even consider using dishes with a favorite cartoon character printed on them.
Smelling, touching, and learning about food helps children get a better sense of eating, and ultimately helps the feeding process. Allow your child to touch the food and smell it before attempting to feed.
Once you start feeding your child, make sure he/she swallows fully. Children with cerebral palsy often have trouble swallowing all of their food. This can become a problem especially if the child is not getting enough nutrition. Speak with your child’s primary health care provider about the numerous techniques in helping your child open his/her mouth the correct way.
You may need to utilize the services of a physiotherapist, especially if your child has trouble swallowing. Some children with cerebral palsy tend to thrust their tongue and have a hard time keeping their mouths closed. You can help by providing soft foods that can be swallowed and digested easier.
Once your child learns proper swallowing techniques and you are confident that he/she is getting the needed nutrition, consider letting the child practice feeding alone. Start by placing a spoon in the child’s hand and guiding the food into his/her mouth. Practice the step over and over until the child grasps the concept and learns to use the spoon alone. Keep in mind that this may take quite a bit of training and your child may not pick up on it right away. Remember that despite the possible messes from shaky, little hands, you are promoting your child’s independence.
Once your child can grasp a spoon and guide it to his/her mouth, start introducing finger foods, such as crackers, grapes, and bread. Have your child hold the food, and then help guide it to his/her mouth. You must ensure, however, that your child is fully eating adequate amounts of all the foods to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
Things to Remember About Children with Cerebral Palsy and Feeding
It’s important to remember that children with cerebral palsy have symptoms and associated disorders that may make feeding times difficult, including:
- Exaggerated bite reflex
- Gag reflex
- Tongue thrusting
- Tactile hypersensitivity
For the above reasons, experts suggest that parents and/or caregivers utilize a team of professionals for helping with the child’s feeding needs and nutrition. According to The Cerebral Palsies: Causes, Consequences and Management, 1e,
“This team should include all relevant health care professionals and the patient’s family. The professional members of the feeding team should include a gastroenterologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, dietitian, nurse, and psychologist. The evaluation should encompass the patient’s ability to suck, masticate, swallow, control head and trunk, maintain nutritional status, and sustain an adequate level of consciousness (neurologic status).”