Feeding and Eating Disorders in Infancy or Early Childhood

Child bearing comes off as one of the most crucial events in any human
being’s life. Indeed, it is the only way that an individual can ensure
the continuation of his or her own progeny. It goes without saying that
infants come with considerable vulnerability to ailments, infections and
microbes. This underlines the reasons as to why governments in a large
number of countries have been increasingly paying attention to the
health of children. While there may be varied disorders that affect
infants or young children, none arguably comes as more fundamental than
the feeding and eating disorders. A child would be diagnosed with
feeding or eating disorders in case he or she satisfies varied criteria.
First, the kid has to be six years old and younger. In addition, the
eating problem is not emanating from any gastrointestinal condition or
any other medical condition. On the same note, the eating problem should
have resulted from the unavailability of food or a mental disorder.
Lastly, the child would not be eating sufficient amounts of food, in
which case he or she would not be following the normal weight gain curve
pertaining to his or her age (Cooper & Stein, 2013). In this case, he or
she would have lost significant amounts of weight within a month or
more. However, there are instances where a child would not be eating
sufficiently but is still retaining his or her normal weight for their
age. This aspect is under discussion by healthcare professionals, and
has underlined the necessity of revision of the criteria for the
diagnosis of feeding and eating disorders (Cooper & Stein, 2013).
Indeed, research shows that between 25% and 45% of infants with normal
development patterns have feeding disorders (Kirkpatrick & Caldwell,
2004). In some cases, feeding disorders persist from infancy to early
childhood. Indeed, the condition may be noticed during birth, or even
make a sudden appearance usually as a response to environmental or
psychological triggers.
Types of Feeding and Eating Disorders in Infants
Scholars have identified three types of feeding and eating disorders in
infants. These include Pica, Rumination disorder and Failure to thrive.
Pica
This disorder takes place in instances where children continuously
consume one or more non-food substances in a minimum of one month. While
this may not appear like a dangerous problem, it may become fatal
especially considering that the ingested non-food substances may be
toxic and harmful to the human body (Cooper & Stein, 2013). Indeed, Pica
may lead to serious medical complications including parasitic infection,
poisoning, intestinal blockage and in some cases death. The high risk of
fatality pertaining to this behavior has resulted to its being
christened one of the most serious categories of self-injurious behavior
(Kirkpatrick & Caldwell, 2004). Of course, there are variations as to
the type of substances that kids may consume depending on their age.
They range from animal droppings, hair, plastic, paint, cloth and
strings, pebbles, insects and leaves.
Scholars have strived to come up with causes of the disorder and
theorized that the condition may be caused by mental retardation, family
history, developmental delays, zinc deficiency, as well as iron
deficiency (Kirkpatrick & Caldwell, 2004). In addition, there have been
theories to the effect that the condition emanates from lack of proper
stimulation, parental attention, as well as oral fixations.
Nevertheless, there has been no clearly-defined cause of the disorder.
Rumination disorder
Rumination disorder occurs in instances where children regurgitate,
re-chew and spit out their food after eating. This eating disorder often
develops in young children and infants and must exist for a minimum of
one month for diagnosis to be made (Cooper & Stein, 2013). It is worth
noting that children that have the disorder do not exhibit retching,
disgust or nausea that is associated with rumination behavior nor do
they have the associated gastrointestinal problems that usually cause
the behavior (Kirkpatrick & Caldwell, 2004). In most cases, symptoms for
the condition are evident between the 3rd and 12th month of age, before
remitting spontaneously after some time. Nevertheless, the condition is
more common in male kids than in females.
Failure to thrive
This disorder results in loss of weight and difficulties in the
maintenance of normal weight. It occurs in instances where a child fails
to eat sufficiently and to maintain appropriate nutrition. The diagnosis
of this disorder is only done in instances where it does not emanate
from a medical condition such as esophageal reflux, chronic lung
disease, and cleft palate among others.
Causes of feeding disorder
Scholars are yet to identify the causes of feeding and eating disorders
among infants. However, the disorder has been attributed to
dysfunctional child-caregiver interactions, poverty, parental
misinformation pertaining to the nutritive needs of the child, child
abuse/ neglect, as well as motor coordination difficulties in the child.
In addition, the child may have a history of medical conditions that
triggers unpleasant feelings towards eating. For example, children who
underwent tube feeding or infants whose stomach muscles are
underdeveloped may find eating unpleasant (Cooper & Stein, 2013). This
may also result from problems in the digestive system and food
allergies. For example, celiac disease is known to cause allergic
reactions to some types of foods such as wheat gluten, in which case
children may become uncomfortable until proper diagnosis of their
condition is done and their diet changed accordingly.
Scholars have also noted that a large number of feeding disorder
especially “Failure to thrive” emanate from predisposing conditions
in the metabolism and stomach of the child among other factors
(Kirkpatrick & Caldwell, 2004). Some non-medical causes may include
stress and fear about something, post-traumatic anxiety from a previous
incident such as choking, or even cases where the child dislike foods
that have certain smells, tastes or textures.
Symptoms of feeding disorders
There exists some similarities between this disorder’s symptoms and
those of other conditions that may result in the malnourishment of the
child. It is imperative that the parent seeks immediate medical
attention, irrespective of how healthy the child looks, if he or she
exhibits symptoms such as constipation, irritability, excessive crying,
apathy and low weight (Cooper & Stein, 2013). In addition, the child may
have difficulties chewing or swallowing, and may gag, choke and vomit.
In addition, the kid may decline to drink or eat by turning their heads,
spitting and throwing foods, screaming and throwing tantrums during meal
times (Kirkpatrick & Caldwell, 2004). However, these may occur in
perfectly normal kids, in which case it is imperative that the symptoms
to go beyond what normal picky kids may display.
Diagnosis of the disorder
The diagnosis of feeding and eating disorders in infants requires that
the kids are taken for a thorough examination by the pediatrician. The
pediatrician may undertake medical exams so a to determine whether the
disorder is merely an expression of other conditions such as nutrient
deficiency, malnutrition and dehydration (Cooper & Stein, 2013). In
addition, the pediatrician may ask questions pertaining to the
environment in which the child lives so as to determine whether the
disorders are linked to deficiency of stimulation, problems in family
relationships, or even specific consequences such as obtaining
caregivers’ attention (Cooper & Stein, 2013). In the case of Pica,
Bayley Scales of Infant Development would be used in measuring the motor
and sensory development of the child. The scale evaluates the memory,
perception, sensation, problem solving, motor movement and abstract
thinking capabilities of the child.
Treatment of Feeding and Eating Disorders in Infancy
The treatment of eating disorders usually requires the collaboration of
multiple professionals such as dieticians, physicians, as well as
behavioral psychologists. In addition, an occupational therapist would
be required especially in instances where the child is having issues
with chewing or swallowing food.
As much as this team of professionals would be quite suited for the
production of the best results, feeding disorders in infants and young
children are best tackled using a behavior modification plan. This would
essentially involve a graduated technique for enhancing the children’s
food intake (Cooper & Stein, 2013). This would go a long way in ensuring
that the child has higher chances for obtaining sufficient nutrients for
their growth and development. Behavior modification plan is made up of
techniques for modifying the things that are rewarding, as well as the
things that are discouraging in the environment of the child in order to
influence the child the behavior of the child (Kirkpatrick & Caldwell,
2004). In essence, the plans would reward the desirable behaviors while
discouraging undesirable ones. These plans are customized to the child
through a careful examination of the food refusal behaviors of the
child.
References
Cooper, P.J & Stein, A (2013). Childhood Feeding Problems and Adolescent
Eating Disorders. New York: Routledge
Kirkpatrick, J., & Caldwell, J. P. (2004). Eating disorders: Everything
you need to know. Buffalo, N.Y: Firefly Books.
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