The Early Learning Institute (TELI) | January 14th, 2019 |

Addressing Infant Feeding Challenges through Early Intervention

Early Intervention Feeding Strategies

Authored by: Jennifer (Krandel) Schreiner, teli Occupational Therapist

Early Intervention Feeding Strategies

Is your infant having difficulty when bottle or breast feeding?

Sitting down with your infant in your lap and nursing or bottle feeding your infant can be a special time shared between parent and child. While it appears to be calming, feeding is a complex process for your infant. The ability to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing to feed is essential for an infant to successfully nurse or take a bottle. Premature infants in particular,  may have a delay in the development of these important reflexes. An infant’s pediatrician may identify this developmental delay, and recommend Early Intervention Services to address the issue.

Signs That Your Infant May be Having Difficulty with Feedings

At teli, our staff of Occupational therapists have worked with numerous parents and their infants who have experienced challenges when beginning to feed.   When an infant is having difficulty attempting to feed, they may appear stressed and exhibit signals that let you know they are struggling such as:

  • Coughing and/or gagging
  • Inability or difficulty maintaining suction during breast or bottle feeding
  • Overall body tension and stiffness
  • Frustrated and unsettled  behavior
  • Increased effort to breathe

Addressing Feeding Developmental Delays through Early Intervention

When a child is medically fragile, as may be the case in a premature birth, addressing developmental delays may be difficult for parents/caregivers. Parents are understandably scared and worried that their child is not getting enough to help them grow and develop. Having a variety of feeding strategies to reduce the stress for their infant as well as themselves is key. In Early Intervention, through occupational therapy, there are several options we can explore with infants and their parents/caregivers.

Early Intervention Feeding Strategies

The following are some of the more common feeding challenges and Early Intervention feeding strategies that have been successful in addressing those issues.  It is important to note that any change in feeding strategy should be done under the guidance of a feeding professional such as an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist in conjunction with your pediatrician.

  • Difficulty Maintaining Suction

Early Intervention for feeding challengesWhen an infant has difficulty maintaining suction during feeding, exploring varying nipples if your infant is bottle fed may enable your infant to maintain suction and control the flow with greater ease.  Additionally, when an infant is bottle or breast fed, external supports can be utilized to help the infant maintain their latch.

  • Inability to Tolerate Flow

For some infants the speed of the flow may be too fast or too slow for them. in these cases, you may consider a change your infant’s feeding position, so that gravity is not working against them, but with them. The position of the bottle is another potential technique to control the flow for them, allowing them to breathe and pause.   Exploring bottle nipples if the infant is bottle fed can be utilized to decrease or increase flow rate, however the modifications should be done under the guidance of an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist.  Also, it is always important to insure the head and neck are supported during feedings.

  • Keeping your infant awake or calm during feeding

Finally, staying awake or calm during feeding may be a hurdle for some infants. In those instances, either unbundling them to wake them up or bundling to calm them can be very effective.   For the infant that is agitated during feeding, soft music or rocking them gently can help.

The importance of addressing feeding issues early cannot be overstated. Parents feel such a sense of relief when they realize they can help their infant to improve their ability to take a bottle or nurse. Most importantly collaborate with your pediatrician as well as an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist when feeding concerns arise to insure safety during feeding time. By implementing the suggestions provided, often, feeding time can become a soothing and rewarding time that a parent can share with their child.

Learn more teli Early Intervention Services or call 412-922-8322 today!

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