Babies, children, and others with cerebral palsy may suffer from nutritional issues related to their condition. Some types of cerebral palsy can affect the ability to nurse, swallow, chew, eat, and drink.
Children with cerebral palsy nutritional issues should work closely with a multidisciplinary team that includes their doctors, a dietitian, a speech therapist, and other therapy providers. This team should work together to ensure the patient receives the nutrition they need to grow and develop.
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Common Issues Causing Nutritional Concerns in Individuals With Cerebral Palsy
Many individuals with cerebral palsy struggle with oropharyngeal issues that affect their ability to suck (important for nursing infants), manipulate food with the tongue, chew, and swallow. Some textures may cause them more problems than others, depending on their individual symptoms. This may mean solid foods or thin liquids are more likely to cause a problem for some children.
The physical and motor issues affecting children with cerebral palsy may include:
- Inability to close lips or hold them closed
- Weak tongue or poor motor control of the tongue
- Tongue thrust
- Exaggerated bite reflex
- Hypersensitivity to certain textures of food or drink
- Delayed swallow initiation and other swallowing concerns
- Reduced pharyngeal motility
Difficulty swallowing can be so severe in some individuals that it is dangerous for them to try to eat or drink by mouth because it can cause choking or aspiration. Aspiration is a dangerous condition when food or drink enters the lungs and can lead to pneumonia.
If doctors believe this is true for your infant or child, they should refer them for a swallow study. This will help both you and your child’s doctor better understand the unique needs of your child and how to address them.
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Cerebral Palsy Can Cause Undernutrition and Malnutrition
Babies and children who experience cerebral palsy nutritional issues can suffer from problems with growth, reduced cerebral functioning, immune system weakening, and other serious health concerns. Cerebral palsy not only affects oropharyngeal functioning, but the condition and drugs to treat it can also cause problems related to:
- Having to rely on the help of others to eat
- Reliance on others to prove an adequate and healthy diet
- Increased nutritional needs
These issues can cause additional problems in meeting the nutritional needs of the child.
Your Child’s Medical Care Team Should Assess and Address Their Nutritional Needs
Your child’s care team should assess their growth and ensure they are getting adequate nutrition regularly as a part of monitoring their cerebral palsy. This may be as frequent as every four to 12 weeks for infants. Generally, older children require less frequent monitoring, but it depends on their nutritional issues and related concerns.
As a part of their assessment of your child, doctors or therapists should identify the specific concerns that your child faces and the cause of those issues, e.g., they choke on thin liquids or struggle to feed themselves with a traditional fork.
Based on these assessments, you can work with the doctors and therapists to put a plan in place to address these needs. Many nutritional issues are easily addressed by:
- Modifying the consistency of foods and drinks
- Offering specially-designed utensils that allow the child to better feed themselves
- Only feeding the child in a supportive seat
Children who need extra calories or have serious difficulties eating and swallowing may require additional help. This could include oral nutritional supplements, often high-calorie shakes with vitamins, or a feeding tube (enteral nutrition). There are several types of enteral nutrition available, including nasogastric, gastrostomy, and post-pyloric feeding.
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In some cases, cerebral palsy occurs because of a preventable birth injury. If your child’s doctor failed to address their nutritional issues or if you have another reason to believe your child suffered additional pain and injury because of a medical care provider’s negligence, you may be able to pursue compensation to help pay for their medical treatment and ongoing care.
You can learn more about your case by discussing it with a birth injury attorney in your state. Each state sets its own deadlines for taking legal action in a medical malpractice case, so be sure to talk to your attorney about the time limits in your state.
For a free case review, call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today at (800) 222-9529.