How not to flick people in the face when your child has a feeding issue

Toddlers are fussy little monkeys when it comes to food – that is a well known fact. Apparently it’s an evolution thing – an instinctive defence against eating potentially unsafe or dangerous foods or some other blah blah that means nothing when you are in the pits of dinner time doom.

I had it with my older two. The endless cajoling to get them to ingest something other than chips. The patience dredged up from the pit of the stomach as we sat down for an actual real-life home cooked meal that they refused to eat (but it’s beef goulash. Really yum!) The pretend stomach ache as dinner is placed on the table that magically disappears with the mention of the word biscuit.


How can they go from a baby that will scoff anything to a demon three-year old that will only eat a mouthful of spaghetti hoops after skipping a lap around the table, or a spoon of peas if you sing Fishy on a Little Dishy in your high helium-type voice?

How?

How do you become the parent that pretends not to notice that they have hidden two potatoes and a carrot in your cardigan pocket hanging off the back of the chair, or the one that thinks screw it a mini waffle and a crumb of fish finger will have to do today.

How?

Because man alive, you just do what you need to do to get through the day.
We all go through it at some point. Don’t be worrying. Honestly – it will either pass or you’ll discover you have better techniques of negotiating and bribery and they have better reasoning and a growing desire to be allowed on the iPad this century.

There will be days though when it will all be too much and you’ll wish it was just you and your Super Noodles made in the kettle at university halls again.

You’ll learn ways around it and you’ll want to pass this knowledge on. Of course you will. After banging your head against the wall, you’ll know sharing your experimental findings and hard-earned experience will be for the greater good of mankind.

You come from a good place, which makes it hard to write this:

There are feeding issues and then there are feeding issues.

And if you know someone who has a kid with those feeding issues, it might be wiser and kinder if you leave your recommendations at the gate. Otherwise you risk a flick in the face (literally or otherwise).

So on behalf of the parents of children with feeding issues caused (or hindered) by anatomical, metabolic, gastrointestinal, motor or sensory problems here is some of the advice that makes us want to tear our hair out (but we do still love you).

They’ll eat when they are hungry

Actually they won’t. There is a small proportion of children who just will not eat no matter how hungry they are. Because it hurts – mentally or physically. Eating is associated with pain and as such hunger is a negative feeling that can become suppressed over time. This can be especially the case for children with a developmental disability or with autistic spectrum disorder.

All kids do this – fussy beggars!

Yes lots do. But there is a difference between picky eaters and problem eaters. According to the SOS Approach to Eating, picky eaters eat less than 30 foods or more, but they are able to tolerate new foods on their plate and can usually touch or taste a new food. Whereas problem eaters are a whole different kettle of fish. They will usually eat less than 20 different foods, will cry and “fall apart” when presented with new foods and will refuse entire categories of food textures.

Eating is instinctive – it will be fine

Apparently not. It is only instinctive for the first month of life. Eating is essentially a learned motor behaviour after six months of age.

Eating is easy – he’ll do it eventually

Gabe has had a number of tests to see what is causing his food aversion. He is dairy and gluten free and is on reflux medication, yet still has random bouts of pain. The next step is an endoscopy to test for allergic oesophagitis. We recently had a discussion with Gabe’s doctor who said that if the results come back clear then we are looking at a psychological rather a clinical issue in regard to food. Okay, we said, that would be good. We can sort that. His sympathy face told a different story. Apparently for a child that has lost the instinctive stage mentioned above, learning to eating can be as difficult as learning Russian. You see you use every muscle and organ system to eat. It also requires simultaneous coordination of all eight of our sensory systems. I’ve got him enrolled on the Russian course instead to keep life simple.

My favourite dish.


Have you tried giving him less milk?

No. Because sometimes he’ll drink, but will not eat. Other times he’ll eat, but refuse to drink. It depends on what he was doing when the pain in his oesophagus became too much to bear. If you ate salmon and it made you ill, chances are you’ll not want to touch that for a while (or WKD drinks in my case. Yack). His special milk is the only thing keeping him alive at times and it would be ludicrous, barbaric and stupid to stop it

If you are less stressed, he’ll be less stressed!

I am a stress head. I have been known to lose my sh*t about all manner of minor things – from sock pair hunting to someone overtaking me on the road (how dare they?) But not when it comes to feeding Gabriel. Then I am an oasis of zen and calm. Because if he so much as sniffs the idea that all is not well in the woods he will shut that feeding operation down. SHUT IT DOWN. We tag team a lot when one of us is getting hot and bothered by the head throwing or the hand batting. But always the person in front of the chair is smiling and encouraging no matter what.

Perhaps you are making feeding into too much of a performance?

This is the one we get from the professionals a lot when we tell them the lengths we have go to sometimes to make him want to eat. Singing, lighting candles as he likes watching them flicker, having that particular Peppa Pig book in front of him, watching 234 episodes of In the Night Garden on loop, no loud sudden noises – you name it, we try it. Because if limbo dancing with a David Cameron mask on reciting Shakespeare will make him take an extra mouthful – then I’m all in.

Feeding therapy going well

Feeding therapy will sort it – get speech and language therapy involved

Erm yes in an ideal world. Gabe has had feeding therapy since he was 9 months old and our therapist is lovely. Yet we don’t seem to have made that much progress. Put some hair bobbles around the bottle and he might just hold it, they said. Nah he just refused to drink. Let him mess with his food. Sure – three years later we have a lovely stained home but not one fleck of it went near his mouth. Finish after 20 minutes. What? If he is keeping going, we are keeping going. Massage upwards from his arms to his face on a daily basis to reduce the aversion. We gave up when the neighbours all put the For Sale signs up – something about some screaming or something. Lots of this does work for other children though and that is one of the reasons why (as well as them assessing swallowing ability and aspiration risk) therapists rock.

Why persevere? Why not get a feeding tube?

This is the million dollar question. I know lots of children with feeding tubes (hell we had one for six months) and each parent will testify that once they made that decision it was the best thing that they did. It took all the stress out of the situation – especially those who have to issue a lot of medication. It is surprising how easy you adapt. I could set up a feeding machine in my sleep (I often did) and the alarm becomes like a family pet – annoying but important all the same. Yet sometimes the decision to tube feed is not black or white. We run the risk of his psychological food aversions running amok and we may never establish consistent, sustained oral feeding. So for now we keep going.

This too shall pass

Do you know what it might not. And we are prepared for that. We’ll crack on because really what choice do we have. Meanwhile, sitting feeding for hours is a good excuse to catch up on our box sets. Every cloud and all that.

Despite all this, I know that it could be so much worse and I take my hat off to a lot of my friends dealing with much worse gastro issues than us and handling it all with much admired aplomb.

So you see, my friend, I hope this has given you some food for thought (get it) and I hope you know I won’t really flick you in the face (that hard ha). Let’s meet up soon and get some coffee and cake. Although cake does strange things to my body – like make it bigger. Any feeding advice for me would be much appreciated.

Lots of love.

Thanks for the inspiration from the marv Stolen Sleep and her epic post How not to punch people when you have a baby that does not sleep

5 Comments on How not to flick people in the face when your child has a feeding issue

  1. Kasia
    June 25, 2015 at 7:54 am (4 years ago)

    I fully symphatize with you. Well done for not giving up oral feeding. We had gastrostomy in for 3 years. I only used it for real emergencies and persevered with oral feeding against everyone's advice. Now at 5 he is not the best eater, more or less same as Gab, but he at least can eat with his mouth. I know children with tubes who will not even make an attempt.

    Reply
  2. Suzanne W
    June 29, 2015 at 8:37 pm (4 years ago)

    Brilliant post lovely. Keep on keeping on and sod the lot of them! x

    Reply
  3. Judith Hurrell
    July 5, 2015 at 7:30 am (4 years ago)

    Sod the know-it-alls! Only you know what's best for your family and what you're going through to maintain it. Brilliant post x

    Reply
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