The Facts About Infant Feeding Disorders

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What is an Infant Feeding Disorder?

Feeding disorders can crop up in infants or young children. Although many people may think that infant feeding disorders are similar to eating disorders, they are in fact very different. However, both of these types of disorders are particularly tough to diagnose, because so many other conditions can mimic a feeding or eating disorder. The causes of an infant feeding disorder are what differentiates them from similar infant problems.

An infant has a feeding disorder if he or she does not gain weight over a period of time due to lack of nutrient intake, but with no underlying medical or mental disorder. For example, an infant born with a cleft palate may not take in enough nutrients, but that infant would not be labeled as having an eating disorder. The same would be true for an infant with congenital heart disease, lung disease, oromotor difficulties, swallowing disorders, or any physical problems with the digestive system. Mental disorders that cause mental retardation can also mimic a feeding disorder.

Infant feeding disorder is often confused with rumination syndrome, which can affect infants, children, and adults.

Possible Causes

But if the conditions that I highlighted in the previous section are not the causes of an infant feeding disorder, what are?

Many times the cause of an infant feeding disorder is unknown, but at other times the cause can be understood by examining the daily life of the infant. For example, an infant who grows up in a poverty-stricken household may lack nutrients because caregivers are unable to provide the infant with adequate formula, because the breastfeeding mother is malnourished, or because there is not enough money for nutritious solid foods.

A dysfunctional parent can also cause infant feeding disorders, as the infant pulls away from the parent and refuses to eat as a cry for attention or for similar reasons. Parental confusion about the type of diet that an infant needs can also cause an infant feeding disorder. For example, a parent who thinks that an infant only needs to feed a couple of times a day at a young age may hold back from giving the infant the nutrition needed.


An infant with a feeding disorder will often gain very little weight, or even lose weight, which is unhealthy for babies and young children. Although these are the most obvious symptoms, the infant may experience other related symptoms as well. For example, the infant may cry excessively and seem irritable because of lack of food. In addition, the infant may sleep for long periods of time and seem apathetic when awake. Constipation is another possible side effect of infant feeding disorders.