• Kristina Mulligan

Expectations vs. Reality

For the whole month, I have known that I wanted to talk about this…but I knew that it would be hard to condense and difficult for me to write. It’s important to talk about though, so here it goes.

Food. Is. Hard.

I had a picture in my head of baby’s first food experience – the pride and the giggles when funny faces were made over new tastes and textures. The introducing of new foods that I made and the gradual increase until our whole family was enjoying the same meals. I always had notions of what dinnertime with our family would look like, gathered around the table, talking about our days, laughing, eating our favorite foods, and enjoying each other’s company.

Instead, feeding my child often leaves me stressed, frustrated, sad, and on the verge of tears on a good day, and sobbing uncontrollably on a bad one. And Flynn is also stressed, overwhelmed, and upset at mealtimes.

Oral aversion (the reluctance, avoidance, or fear of eating, drinking, or accepting sensation in or around the mouth) is more common in premature babies, especially those who had a longer stay in the NICU, due to unpleasant stimulation to their mouths and/or faces they have experienced. Babies who exhibit oral aversion refuse to eat or experience significant distress during feeding, causing them to receive inadequate nutrition.

‪Flynn’s first food, pureed avocados, was introduced when he was about 10 months old. We waited because he wasn’t sitting up and didn’t have the muscle control that’s involved in eating. With help of his pediatrician, we decided that, though he still wasn’t able to sit and his muscle tone was still extremely low, it was time to make modifications to introduce solids before the window closed on an appropriate time to do so.‬

I reclined him in his highchair, put the spoon to his mouth, and his eyes grew wide with fear. I’d never seen anything like it. I forged ahead, though, knowing that all new experiences can be scary. As I parted his lips with the spoon and forced in a bit of food, he began to scream and then became completely silent as he choked. He gagged as I ripped him from his chair and eventually gasped as he took in a breath of air. For the next day, he also refused his bottles. I called the doctor and that was the beginning of Early Intervention. It started as us needing assistance building his muscle tone through physical therapy, but over time, our repertoire grew to include so much more.

We have learned a lot about food, oral aversions, sensory disintegration, and the role that muscle tone plays in eating in the past two years, but it’s still a daily battle. Unless you’ve been down this road, it’s extremely difficult to understand how stressful food can be. Flynn is only able to manipulate soft and mechanical solid foods (like pasta) and gets most of his nutrients from a bottle, but that’s progress from where he’s been. We work with our OT and SLP to introduce new foods and to ease tensions surrounding meals, and a nutritionist to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make sure that Flynn is growing and gaining. It certainly takes a village.

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