ASHA Encourages Families to Learn the Signs of Pediatric Feeding Disorder

May Marks Awareness Month for Common But Underrecognized Condition

May 17, 2023

(Rockville, MD) With more than 1 in 37 children under the age of 5 affected by pediatric feeding disorder in the United States annually, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is urging families to learn the signs of the condition this May, Pediatric Feeding Disorder Awareness Month.

Pediatric feeding disorder is defined as impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, and/or psychosocial dysfunction. It can affect children at various stages in their development, from birth to grade school and beyond.

Signs of pediatric feeding disorder can include the following:

  • arching back when feeding
  • turning head away from food
  • vomiting (more than the typical “spit-up” for infants)
  • having breathing difficulties when feeding
  • coughing and/or choking during or after swallowing
  • crying during mealtimes
  • having difficulty chewing foods that are texturally appropriate for the child’s age (may spit out, hold food in mouth, or swallow partially chewed food)
  • gagging on food
  • losing food or liquid from the mouth when eating
  • taking a long time to finish meals or snacks (longer than 30 min per meal—and less time for small snacks)
  • refusing foods of certain textures, brands, colors, or other distinguishing characteristics
  • taking only small amounts of food, overpacking the mouth, and/or pocketing foods
  • losing weight, or having trouble gaining weight

Pediatric feeding disorder is not something to be left untreated, and learning the signs of disorder is a critical first step toward addressing it. The condition can be distressing for children and families alike. It can affect a child’s health and can result in serious issues—including dehydration or poor nutrition, food or liquid going into the airway (called aspiration), and pneumonia or other lung infections. It can also lead to a child having negative feelings about eating. In addition, the disorder can hinder children academically and socially.

ASHA encourages concerned parents to seek professional help from speech-language pathologists (SLPs), who can diagnose pediatric feeding disorder and can help children with the condition in ways that include the following:

  • Making the muscles of their mouth stronger.
  • Helping them move their tongue more.
  • Helping them chew foods.
  • Helping them try new foods and drinks.
  • Improving how well they can suck from a bottle or drink from a cup.
  • Helping them learn how to breathe while sucking and swallowing. This applies to babies only.
  • Changing food textures and liquid thickness to help them swallow safely.
  • Encouraging them to participate during meals, including accepting food.
  • Helping them with sensory issues. A child may not like the way food feels in their mouth or on their hands. The SLP can help them get used to how food feels.
  • Changing the way the caregiver holds their baby or the way the child sits when eating.

Families who are concerned about their child’s feeding should always trust their instincts and seek a professional evaluation. For children ages birth to 3 years, parents and caregivers can connect with their local early intervention program to request a free evaluation. Families can also find help from SLPs in private practice. Look for one who specializes in feeding and swallowing disorders. A searchable database of these professionals can be found at

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 228,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

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