Feeding Disorder

A feeding disorder is the failure of an infant or young child to get enough nutrition. This can lead to malnutrition. A feeding disorder causes weight loss, or a failure to gain weight as expected for the child’s age. Other symptoms include constipation, fussiness, excessive crying, and the child's loss of interest in their surroundings. 

A feeding disorder may occur because the child isn't getting the right amounts or types of food. Or it may be due to how the mother or caregiver interacts with the child. Sometimes the exact cause can't be found.

Childhood malnutrition is a very serious condition. If untreated, it can have lasting (permanent) effects on the child’s mental and physical development.

Treatment includes increasing the child’s daily intake of calories and fluid. If the child is low on vitamins or minerals, certain foods or supplements may be advised. The healthcare provider will look for and treat any illness that may also be present. You will be given information about the best diet to feed your child. This can be a difficult problem to solve. A team approach may be needed. The team may include a doctor who specializes in treating infants and children (a pediatrician), a dietitian, social workers, and visiting nurses. In severe cases, your child may need hospitalization. In very extreme cases, your child may need tube feedings if he or she isn't getting enough calories by mouth. 

Home care

  • Follow the healthcare provider’s plan for changes to diet and fluid intake.

  • Keep regular appointments with the healthcare provider to watch your child’s growth and development.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child vomits repeatedly

  • Your child has continued or severe diarrhea

  • Your child has blood in the vomit or stool

  • Your child has belly (abdominal) swelling

  • You can't soothe your child

  • Your child shows abnormal fussiness, drowsiness or confusion

  • Your child has no wet diapers for 8 hours, no tears when crying, "sunken" eyes, or a dry mouth

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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