“How Does a Speech Therapist Help Babies With Feeding & Swallowing?”
Speech therapists are probably best known for helping children and adults with speech-language disorders. And it’s true – that’s a big part of what we do. But we are also educated and trained specifically to help babies with feeding & swallowing disorders.
(We can help adults also – stroke victims, for instance. But the primary focus of our Akron speech therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection is pediatrics.)
It’s worth noting that while feeding & swallowing are often referred to in the same breath, they are actually different skills. As noted by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, feeding is the accepting and preparing food orally, while swallowing is the process of transporting food from the mouth to the stomach. They’re obviously interrelated skills, but involve separate processes. Your child might have issues with just one or both. In either case, a speech therapist can help.
A speech therapist, also known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), can provide specialized help for babies with feeding and swallowing difficulties and disorders. Some ways in which a speech therapist may assist:
- Evaluation and assessment: The SLP will conduct a thorough evaluation to assess your baby’s feeding and swallowing skills. This assessment may involve observing feeding sessions, examining oral structures and movements, and considering your baby’s medical history. The purpose is to identify the underlying issues causing the difficulties.
- Developing a feeding plan: Based on the evaluation results, the SLP will develop an individualized feeding plan tailored to your baby’s specific needs. This plan may involve strategies to address issues like latching, sucking, swallowing, oral motor control, and acceptance of different textures.
- Positioning and feeding techniques: The SLP can provide guidance on proper positioning during feeding to optimize your baby’s comfort and safety. They may recommend specific techniques to facilitate improved oral motor control, sucking, and swallowing coordination.
- Oral motor exercises: The SLP may introduce oral motor exercises to improve your baby’s muscle strength, coordination, and control of the mouth, tongue, and jaw. These exercises can help enhance their feeding and swallowing abilities.
- Sensory stimulation: Some babies may have sensory aversions or difficulties that affect feeding and swallowing. The SLP may introduce sensory stimulation techniques to gradually increase your baby’s tolerance and acceptance of various textures, tastes, and temperatures.
- Transition to solid foods: If your baby is ready for transitioning to solid foods, the SLP can provide guidance and strategies to introduce age-appropriate textures and manage any difficulties that may arise during this process.
- Parent education and training: A significant aspect of the SLP’s role is to educate and train parents or caregivers on feeding techniques, strategies, and modifications that can be implemented at home. They will provide guidance on how to support your baby’s feeding and swallowing development outside of therapy sessions.
- Collaboration with other healthcare professionals: In some cases, feeding and swallowing difficulties may be linked to underlying medical conditions. The SLP may collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, dieticians, or occupational therapists, to ensure a comprehensive approach to your baby’s care.
It’s important to remember that the specific intervention and techniques used will depend on your baby’s unique needs and the recommendations of the SLP. They will work closely with you to provide ongoing support and monitor your baby’s progress, adjusting the therapy plan as necessary.
How Do I Know if My Baby Needs Feeding & Swallowing Therapy?
There is no singular characteristic that definitively determines whether a child needs feeding & swallowing therapy, though kids with some conditions (like Down Syndrome, cleft palate, or cerebral palsy) often benefit from it. If that’s the case, your child’s physician will likely recommend it before you’ve even thought of it.
But beyond that, here are some red flags that might indicate the need for a speech therapist’s assistance with feeding and/or swallowing:
- Difficulty with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding: If your infant has trouble latching, sucking, or swallowing during feeding, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.
- Poor weight gain or growth: If your child is not gaining weight adequately or is not growing as expected, it may suggest that feeding difficulties are affecting their nutrition and overall development.
- Limited food acceptance or refusal: If your child consistently refuses certain textures or types of food, avoids specific food groups, or shows extreme pickiness when it comes to eating, it could be an indication of a feeding problem.
- Coughing, choking, or gagging during meals: Persistent coughing, choking, or gagging during meals may suggest an issue with swallowing or difficulty coordinating the swallowing process.
- Frequent respiratory issues: If your child frequently experiences respiratory problems, such as recurrent chest infections or pneumonia, it could be due to aspiration of food or liquid into the airway during swallowing.
- Eating or drinking with excessive drooling: Excessive drooling during eating or drinking can be a sign of oral motor control difficulties, which may impact swallowing function.
- Slow or messy eating: If your child takes an excessively long time to eat or has messy eating habits beyond what is developmentally appropriate, it may indicate an oral motor or swallowing difficulty.
- Reduced oral movements: If your child has limited movements of the tongue, lips, or jaw during eating or drinking, it could be a sign of oral motor issues that can affect feeding and swallowing.
- Weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration: Any significant weight loss, signs of malnutrition, or dehydration should be taken seriously and may require evaluation from a healthcare professional, including a speech therapist.
If you notice any of these signs or have concerns about your child’s feeding or swallowing abilities, it is advisable to seek an evaluation from a qualified speech-language pathologist (also known as a speech therapist) who specializes in pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. They can conduct a comprehensive assessment and provide appropriate recommendations or therapy to address your child’s specific needs.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
More Blog Entries:
Speech Milestones for 18-Month-Olds – From Akron Speech Therapists, May 1, 2023, Therapy & Wellness Connection Speech Therapy Blog