My Child Has... Article

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Feeding Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood


What is feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood?

Feeding disorder of infancy or early childhood is a disorder in which an infant or a child under 6 years old refuses to eat enough to be healthy. It is not due to a medical condition such as a stomach problem. As a result of feeding disorder, the infant or child fails to gain weight normally and to get proper nutrition. He or she may lose enough weight to cause harm.

How does it occur?

The cause of feeding disorder is unknown, but the disorder results in bonding problems between the child and the caregiver. There also can be problems with the child's sleep-wake patterns. Infants or children who do not get enough sleep may not have the energy to eat or interact. Problems with feeding may also be a symptom of a developmental disability.

What are the symptoms?

If symptoms occur repeatedly for at least a month, the child may have feeding disorder. An infant with feeding disorder:

  • is cranky while eating
  • shows little emotion
  • acts withdrawn, is not social
  • fails to develop physically and emotionally at the normal rate
  • does not eat enough to gain weight
  • does not get enough restful sleep because of a problem with the sleep-wake cycle
  • throws up a lot

How is it diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will do a physical exam and take a medical history to rule out other medical conditions. He or she will ask about the child's eating and sleeping patterns, overall mood, mood while eating, and history of weight loss. A trained specialist, usually a nurse, will watch the caregiver feed the infant or child

Depending on how severe the symptoms are, the healthcare provider will decide how best to treat the child. The child may need to be treated in the hospital.

How is it treated?

Treatment usually involves a team approach. The team always includes the caregiver and may include a pediatrician, a nutritionist, a social worker, child psychiatrist, and a physical or occupational therapist. The goal of the team is to enhance the bond between the child and the caregiver.

The infant or child may need to be fed through an IV (a tube placed in a vein) or an NG tube (a tube placed in the nose) until he or she can eat normally.

It is important to stay in touch with the healthcare provider to inform him or her about any significant changes in the child's feeding behavior.

How long will the effects last?

Children with this disorder who are not treated may get very sick and even die. Studies show that children who don't get the food they need to grow and develop normally may suffer in the following ways:

  • They may become hyperactive.
  • They may grow up to be shorter than they would have been.
  • They may not be as intelligent as they would have been.

Most children with this disorder who are treated do well and develop normally over time.


Written by Psychiatric Professional Services, Inc.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-14
Last reviewed: 2010-06-14

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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