CHD Early Intervention Presentation Addresses Child Feeding Difficulties

Early Intervention (EI) efforts for children are usually associated with helping them learn to walk and talk, along with gaining cognitive and emotional progress. But feeding difficulties are also widespread—learning to eat is a complex activity that requires coordination of both cognitive and motor skills, and having food intake problems can have a significant impact on a child’s growth and development.

On March 4, CHD EI Supervisor Cindy Napoli (pictured on left) and feeding-swallowing specialist (and speech-language pathologist) Cheryl Pelletier delivered a presentation entitled “Whetting the Appetite” at the CHD Training Center in downtown Springfield. The subtitle of the training was “From Puree to Diced Foods: Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists Tips & Tools.”

The participants, most of them occupational therapists, learned about feeding and swallowing benchmarks for children aged six months to three years, as well as food texture progression (from puree to diced foods)—and tools to support this development.

Regarding a therapist working with a baby and parent, Napoli said, “Feeding really is about a dance—getting that relationship with the baby, the parent, and yourself, and supporting that family where they are at. In early intervention, it’s about being a triad. We are the specialists, but when you enter the baby’s home, it’s really about empowering the parent and the child’s relationship.”

Proper feeding begins with breastfeeding: Napoli described proper technique—what the baby’s tongue and lips should be doing. If there isn’t a proper latch, “these are future feeding-problem kids,” she said, adding that some parents/caregivers choose to bottle-feed “and often bottle-feeding babies can have problems too because of poor tongue and lip development.”

Napoli and Pelletier discussed such subjects as baby-led weaning, which involves preparing the same meal for the whole family with modifications for the child, and the importance of the whole family eating together. “Babies learn by watching,” said Napoli. “I feel that’s a part of our culture that’s sometimes lost—everyone sitting down together at mealtime. Let the baby sit in a high chair with the family and watch.”

Do you know of a child with feeding concerns—or needs help in reaching other developmental milestones? Read more about CHD’s EI program and request an evaluation online.