As an Speech language pathologist (“SLP”) that specializes in Baby Led Weaning (“BLW”), I speak at conferences across the nation helping parents learn how to safely implement feeding strategies to make mealtime successful. At these events, parents often wonder what will happen if their baby needs feeding therapy. Here are several questions you should ask to help navigate feeding intervention:
Does your baby (in fact) need feeding therapy?
If your child is having difficulties eating (choking, trouble swallowing, refusing textures, etc.) or if you need to increase their food/liquid intake, then your family may benefit from feeding therapy. When treating infants, feeding therapy helps babies who are having difficulties sucking, chewing, feeding, swallowing, or transitioning to solids safely. The earlier we begin treating these problems, the better your baby’s growth, nutrition, and future eating outcomes will be. Sometimes feeding therapy may only take a session or two, so don’t be afraid if your baby really does need feeding therapy.
Who can diagnose and provide feeding therapy?
Speech language pathologists (“SLPs”) and occupational therapists (“OTs”) are the trained medical professionals that provide feeding and swallowing therapy.
I always encourage parents to interview their therapists. Ask them how long they have been providing therapy, how many different feeding therapy approaches they know, and what their specialty is (traditional feeding method, BLW method, tube feeding, etc.).
- Products: Does the therapist have a lot of experience with different feeding products in order to give you options and recommendations?
- Fun: Is your baby having fun in feeding therapy while learning the essential skills for eating, or are they crying the entire time? We want a positive experience with food.
How will you be involved in feeding therapy?
Will you (the caregiver) be an active participant in the therapy session or will you be less involved looking through a two-way mirror or will you be in the waiting room, oblivious to what is happening in the therapy session? I find that parents who are directly involved in feeding sessions have the best carryover skills (and their child graduates from feeding therapy much sooner!).
- Hands On: Inquire how you can be hands-on in the therapy session.
- Your Turn: Ask the therapist if you can implement the feeding strategy after she shows you how.
Where will feeding therapy occur?
SLPs specializing in feeding and swallowing can provide therapy in-home, via hospital-based intervention, or at a private clinic. Which environment will allow your child to be most successful?
- Environment: Engage in dialogue with your therapist on schedules, flexibility, and the best therapy environment for your family.
- Comfortable: Make sure you feel comfortable in the environment and be an active participant in positive conversations on how to improve the sessions if needed. I once had a mom that was considering cancelling sessions because she was too hot at my clinic. When she asked about changing the room temperature, we agreed that it was mind blowing how active, happy and participatory this mama became in having a better feeding relationship with her baby!
What will feeding therapy look like?
How does the therapist start and end their session? Are you responsible for bringing snacks or meals? Or will they provide it? Should you bring your baby’s favorite toys or dishware? Is the therapy session held in a kitchen at a table or in a play room on the floor?
- Details: It is important to understand and discuss the details of the therapy session, so you can gain confidence about feeding your child independently.
- Highchair: Will your baby be fed in a highchair? Are you responsible for bringing one? I’m surprised how often the details about a highchair are not discussed. This is the most important tool for safely positioning your baby, so make sure to inquire about a highchair with a foot rest.
What goals will your therapist work on during feeding therapy?
To provide a general guideline, here are some of the common goals I’ve used during my feeding therapy sessions:
- Educate parents on safe-feeding techniques
- Improve the movement and coordination of the mouth
- Improve the ability to munch food
- Increase proper positioning for eating safely
- Increase the acceptance of new foods and liquids
- Improve sucking and/or drinking abilities
- Recommend food temperature and texture changes for a safer swallow
- Recommend liquid consistency changes for a safer swallow
- Recommend compensatory strategies for a safer swallow
- Recommend products to improve feeding and swallowing skills
- Make referrals to other medical professionals
What products do I need for feeding therapy and beyond?
After 24 years of experience in feeding therapy, I’ve accumulated the best products for infant feeding. I’ve listed all the recommended products in my Amazon store, categorized for easy browsing:
- Starting Solids & BLW Must Haves
- Baby Products: 6-12 months
- Tube Feeding
- Highchairs and Boosters
- And more!
I hope these tips help you navigate feeding therapy for your baby! If you are having problems finding a therapist in your area that specializes in feeding, I provide virtual parent coaching to help you and your little one! Email firstname.lastname@example.org. #MsDawnSLP
xo Ms. Dawn