Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 36: Feeding
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Feeding is one of the first abilities that a child develops to meet her needs. Even a newborn baby has reflexes that cause her to:
|turn her head to seek the breast when her cheek is touched,||suck and swallow,||and cry when hungry.||By a few months of age, the child learns to take solid food in her mouth and eat it.|
Normally a child’s feeding skills gradually increase without any special training. She learns first to use her lips and tongue to suck and swallow liquids. Later she learns to bite and chew solid foods, and to take food to her mouth with her hands. The early head-turning and sucking reflexes gradually go away as she learns to control her feeding movements.
Some children, however, do not develop feeding skills easily or naturally. This may be because the child’s whole development is slow. Or, because the child has a particular physical difficulty (such as a hole in the roof of her mouth—see “Cleft Palate”).
Children with cerebral palsy often have feeding difficulties, which are sometimes severe. Difficulty with sucking (or being unable to suck) may be the first sign in a child who later develops other signs of cerebral palsy. Or the child may have trouble swallowing, and easily choke on food. Uncontrolled movements of the body, pushing out the tongue, or floppy, inactive lips may also be a problem.
One reason that some disabled children are slow to develop self-feeding skills is that their families continue to do everything for them. Because of a child’s other difficulties, her family may continue to treat her as a baby. They may give her only liquids, and put everything into her mouth, rather than encouraging her to do more for herself.