Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Feeding Support for Infants and Young Children

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Feeding Support for Infants and Young Children

Article excerpt

Mealtime is an important event for both child and caregiver because feeding affects the child's physical health, growth, and development. In addition to taking in nutrients and practicing feeding skills, a child socializes and expresses feelings during mealtime. Feeding should be a pleasurable experience. The child's communication skills, cognitive abilities, and relationship with the caregiver grow when the caregiver is sensitive to the child's needs and preferences. At the same time, the caregiver can be working toward both short- and long-term goals, such as drinking out of a cup.

Mealtime however, is often challenging for children with special needs and their caregivers. When a child's growth is compromised and clinicians are concerned about the child's health, caregivers may find it difficult to address other goals when faced with meeting a prescribed nutrient intake. Mealtime becomes a task rather than a nurturing experience. Caregivers can feel alone in the task of feeding. They feel unsupported by any other knowledgeable, skilled person, even though they are more successful in feeding the child than anyone else.

In 1992, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing, started the Feeding Support Program, which supports caregivers with the goal of preventing feeding problems. Over the years, in working with caregivers, we have identified several common, troublesome feeding experiences:

* fear of choking and aspiration;

* frustration with the time feeding takes;

* concern that the child is not developing age-appropriate feeding skills;

* disappointment in the difficulty involved in taking the child to family gatherings or restaurants; and

* concern that the child is indifferent to food and to being fed.

The first step toward addressing these issues is to believe that things can be better and that helpful resources exist.

Without early attention, the child and caregiver may learn feeding patterns that are not functional. Our program uses nurses as "mentors." The nurse-mentor develops a plan of action after conducting an in-depth assessment with the caregivers. This assessment explores what feeding means to the caregivers as well as their expectations and feeding practices.

Other clinicians who support families with feeding difficulties include: community health nurses, pediatricians, nutritionists, speech therapists, early education specialists, occupational and physical therapists, clinical psychologists who focus on the dynamics of parent-child relationships, and the physicians and nurses at the specialty clinics the child attends. …

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