“It is easier to build up a child that it is to repair an adult.”
Feeding disorders: It’s interesting how we call an eating disorder in infancy and early childhood as a feeding disorder. It’s even sadder that a child can be afflicted by this. Someone new to the world. Feeding disorders are quite common and when severe become life threating as a child needs ample nutrition for growth and brain development. It’s the responsibility of primary caregivers to be aware and take preventive measures to not let it hurt the child.
Feeding disorder is when an infant or a child below the age of 6 fails to eat adequately causing weight loss or even slow developmental growth in just one month. The child may initially seem like a ‘crazy’ picky eater, which is just a layer waiting to be uncovered. The thing to be noted here is that the cause for this ailment should NOT be due to medical problems or other mental health issues or even unavailability of food.
There are a number of causes as to which a child can acquire this kind of disorder. A few of them are given below:
- Severe stress may trigger the behavior.
- Parents failure to understand and act on a child’s hunger cues.
- Forcing food aggressively when the child isn’t hungry.
- Using food to control or demand authority over the child.
- Neglect of or an abnormal relationship between the child and the mother or other primary caregivers which may cause the child to engage in self-comfort in this way.
- Parents apathy towards the child’s needs.
- Traumatic experiences in regards to eating.
- It may be a way for the child to gain attention.
The symptoms of this disorder resemble that of a malnourished child as he/she is not getting enough nutrition due to lack of eating. The child or infant may be:
- excessive crying
- screaming or throwing food
- difficult to console
A few types of feeding disorders include:
- Pica: Eating non-food substances like rubber, cotton, hair, sand, leaves, pebbles, etc. The reason for this disorder is currently not known but most cases of Pica usually happen due to anaemia (iron deficiency), zinc deficiency, mental retardation, developmental delays, and a family history of Pica. Whereas it could even be due to oral fixations, a lack of appropriate stimulation (during the developmental period) or a lack of parental attention.
- Rumination Disorder: When an infant or a child regurgitates partially swallowed food and starts re-chewing it and then swallows again. Occasionally he/she might spit it out. When this happens the child may complain of reoccurring stomachaches and indigestion. Raw and chapped lips may also be visible. Bad breath and tooth decay are also common.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Previously known as Selective Eating Disorder (SED). When the individual does not meet the criteria for other eating disorders but still struggles with eating and food clinically then the diagnosis would be ARFID.
There are many treatment approaches available but beginning should be an assessment of the child’s needs. This treatment requires multidisciplinary work, dietician, psychologist, and physicians specialized in the gastrointestinal tract. I know all this feels scary but it gets better and full recovery is attainable.