Oral Aversion in Babies

Oral Aversion In Babies

Oral Aversion

There's nothing more worrying than a baby who simply won't eat. Babies can’t voice their issues clearly which is why feeding problems can be worrisome for mothers. For most babies, breastfeeding or bottle feeding is comforting and reassuring. It's also a great bonding opportunity. But did you know that some babies can find both breastfeeding and bottle feeding to be an absolute nightmare?

Oral aversion, a sensory feeding disorder,  is when an infant fears or refuses taking in any food or substance by mouth. For these babies, any sensation around the mouth area or even a slight touch can cause distress.

What causes babies to develop oral aversions?

Premature babies are twice as likely to develop feeding aversions. One of the reasons behind this is that premature babies aren't mentally or physically developed yet. A premature baby’s muscle tone and cognitive development may affect their appetite and ability to feed normally.

Another reason behind oral aversions is when babies have traumatizing experiences around the mouth area. Any unpleasant sensations around the mouth area can cause your baby to fear eating and develop an oral aversion. Stressful NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) procedures can cause your baby to make negative associations between taking anything in by mouth and pain or discomfort caused by procedures such as intubation or NG/OG tubes. This is why premature babies who spend more time in the NICU have a higher chance of developing an oral aversion.

Just like how premature babies may make a negative association between any mouth sensations and pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also have the same effect. If a baby’s stomach contents rise and produce a burning sensation due to GERD, it won’t be long before they associate drinking milk with this burning sensation. This may lead a baby to develop a fear of feeding.

Signs and symptoms to look out for

Some common signs your baby has an oral aversion include:

  • Not eating even when appearing to be hungry
  • Not drinking enough milk
  • Refusing to feed while awake and only feeding while drowsy or asleep
  • Showing distress or crying when put in a feeding position
  • Drinking a small amount of milk before refusing
  • Inadequate growth

How you should handle oral aversions?

An oral aversion can impede a baby’s growth and development at a phase that requires optimal nutrition. Short stature, lower cognitive functioning and behavioral challenges are a few long term effects that improper nutrition at this critical stage can cause.

As a mother, feeding your baby is one of the most effective ways to bond but if your baby is busy stressing out then the feeding process won’t be so pleasant and comforting. Your baby’s doctor can help you take steps towards resolving your baby’s feeding issues. This can involve behavioral therapy for your infant along with other steps that revolve around slowly making your baby more familiar and comfortable with feeding. 

As a last resort your doctor might have to insert a feeding tube for severe oral aversion cases. Although a feeding tube might sound scary, it’s a safe option that your doctor might consider to make sure your baby gets the vital nutrients he or she needs. 



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