Why does feeding matter?
Before discussing what a feeding problem might look like, it is important to consider what successful feeding looks like. This won’t be the first time I make this statement: feeding is not solely about growth and nutrition. We have a bad habit of equating normal growth with normal feeding. On multiple occasions, concerned families have told me that although they are stressed about mealtime, their pediatrician informed them that there is no problem because their child’s growth looks fine. Again, I reiterate, feeding is about much more than growth. So, what else does feeding entail?
Socialization: Think back to the last few special events that you’ve been to – birthday parties, weddings, etc. Was there food? Of course there was! Food is often the cornerstone of our social events. Mealtime may be one of the few times that a family sits down together. We often schedule get-togethers at restaurants and socialize while we eat. Mealtime is a time of relationship development.
Communication: Mealtime is an opportunity for a child to learn and practice important communication skills. Children have a chance to indicate likes and dislikes, practice manners, and learn functional communication to get their needs and wants met.
Skill Development: As children learn to eat, they develop many different skills. They learn oral motor skills as they try different textures. They learn fine motor skills as they use utensils to spear their food and bring it to their mouth. Children learn to gradually expand the amount of time they can sit in one place.
Feeding is important and feeding challenges can occur regardless of where a child is on a growth curve. It is a complex process with many components to navigate through. The last thing we should be doing is blowing off concerns by referring back to growth charts and nutrition. If any of the components mentioned above are impacted, we need to be determining where the feeding challenge lies and how to best intervene.