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Swallowing Disorders in Children

By HERWriter
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It seems like the most natural thing for a child to do – swallow the milk or food you place in her mouth. But for some infants and children with a swallowing disorder, difficulty eating can lead to a variety of physical symptoms.

Although any child can have a swallowing disorder, children with certain medical conditions including premature birth, nervous system disorders, and cleft lip or palate are more likely to have swallowing difficulties.

Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, can occur in any of three stages in the swallowing process:

Oral phase – sucking, chewing, and moving food from the mouth into the throat
Pharyngeal phase – starting the swallow, which includes moving the food down the throat and closing off the airway so the food goes to the stomach and not into the lungs
Esophageal phase – relaxing and closing off the openings at the top and bottom of the esophagus (the tube food travels through to reach the stomach), as well as squeezing the food down the tube to the stomach

Children who have swallowing disorders are at risk for a number of potentially serious conditions:

Dehydration – children may be under nourished or dehydrated because they cannot consume enough food or liquids
Aspiration – food may “go down the wrong way” and enter the airway, which can cause choking
Respiratory infections – food in the airway can cause recurrent respiratory infections, pneumonia, and sometimes chronic lung disease

Symptoms of Swallowing Disorders
Infants and children with swallowing disorders may show one or more of these symptoms:

• Arching or stiffening the body during feeding
• Lack of attention or alertness during feeding
• Refusing food or liquids
• Refusing foods of different textures (such as only wanting crunchy foods)
• Taking a long time to feed (30 minutes or longer)
• Difficulty breast feeding or chewing
• Coughing or gagging while eating
• Swallowing repeatedly
• Food or liquid leaking from the mouth or nose
• Spitting up during meals

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.