Banner Health Services  

Is my baby having swallowing problems?


Rachel Smith is a speech language pathologist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale. She can be reached at (602) 865-5838.

Question: Sometimes it seems as though my newborn is coughing and gurgling too much during his feeding, which is obviously concerning. How I can tell if my child is having swallowing problems and how are these problems diagnosed?

The notion that a young child may have problems feeding or swallowing can be a frightening proposition for any parent. After all, such problems may lead to dehydration, poor nutrition, aspiration of food or liquid into the airway, frequent respiratory infections, and choking, among other complications.

Feeding and swallowing problems can affect children of all ages, especially children with complicated medical histories. There are, however, a variety of signs and symptoms that parents can look for when their child is eating and drinking:

  • coughing and choking
  • gulping
  • a “gurgly” sounding voice
  • difficulty breathing
  • flaring nostrils
  • poor latch and seal on the bottle
  • food refusal
  • poor weight gain
  • frequent vomiting
  • recurrent pulmonary infections.

Parents who recognize any of these symptoms or suspect that their child has difficulty feeding or swallowing should talk with the child’s health care provider to determine if further evaluation is necessary.

When further evaluation is warranted, speech pathologists, who are feeding and swallowing experts, are often brought in to help assess and identify ongoing problems.

One of the most common ways to diagnose feeding or swallowing disorders in children is through a modified barium swallow test. This test is a moving X-ray of the child’s mouth and throat while they eat and drink various foods and liquids. Modified barium swallow tests allow speech pathologists to evaluate the child’s oral feeding skills, as well as the anatomy, timing, and functioning of his or her swallowing structures and mechanisms. From this assessment, it is possible to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan.

A modified barium swallow test can be performed on patients of all ages, from infant to elderly, provided the patient is medically fit to participate. In other words, the benefits of performing the test should far outweigh any potential risks.

Page Last Modified: 01/17/2012
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