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Pediatric Feeding Program

The Pediatric Feeding Program at the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Outpatient Therapy Center specializes in treating pediatric patients, newborn and up, who have feeding and swallowing difficulties. Our goal is to maximize feeding skills and improve your child's overall well-being through treatment, training, and parental support.

Pediatric Feeding Program Services Summarized

Our multidisciplinary team of specialists works directly with parents to develop feeding techniques for their child.

Feeding Program Services Include:

  • Videofluoroscopic swallow study
  • Feeding therapy
  • Family and caregiver education

Who Uses Pediatric Feeding Program's Services

Children with any of the following conditions may have problems with swallowing or feeding:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spinal bifida
  • Oral aversion
  • Brain injury
  • Prematurity
  • Cleft palate
  • Cardiac problems
  • Reflux
  • Chronic coughing/choking while feeding
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Apraxia
  • Down syndrome and other syndromes
  • Tongue-tied
  • Oral motor weakness
  • Neurological problems
  • Children with tube feeding
  • Poor growth
  • Respiratory complications, such as pneumonia

Patient Outcomes

97.4% of patients are satisfied
85.7% of kids eat more safely with recommended diet changes
71.5% of the Feeding Program's graduates like more foods
96% of parents and caregivers can feed their child safely

Medical Management

If the referring physician is seeking specialized medical management of the feeding disorder, he or she should contact the Gerber Pediatric Feeding Clinic at 616.391.2242.

Pediatric Feeding Program Services Explained

To be seen, your child must first have his or her condition evaluated by a physician who writes a prescription.

Feeding Evaluation
The feeding assessment is performed by a specially trained occupational therapist or a speech pathologist. The assessment includes review of medical history, reports from other healthcare providers, parent concerns, and oral motor evaluation. A videofluoroscopic swallow study is often recommended.

Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study
During the study, the patient is given food or liquid mixed with barium, a radio opaque substance. As the patient swallows, the food or liquid inside the mouth is observed while moving into the esophagus. Therapists are able to observe on a screen similar to a TV. A video recording is made for later review. Consultation and education is provided to the family while viewing the video recording.

Feeding Therapy
Feeding therapy is coordinated with the patient’s physician or the clinic team and can focus on some or all of these areas:

  • Appropriate bottle and nipple selection for infants
  • Decreasing oral defensiveness and aversion
  • Learning compensatory techniques
  • Optimal positioning to increase safety
  • Oral motor strengthening and coordination
  • Larynegeal and pharyngeal strengthening and coordination
  • Diet modifications to increase safety and improve respiratory health
  • Progress in amounts, textures, and/or new foods accepted

Family and Caregiver Feeding Education

We consider family involvement to be a key component of our feeding program. We educate parents and caregivers on any potential safety concerns. We provide training in home exercise programs or strategies to ensure that the child’s treatment is able to continue at home and in other settings.

Meet the Mary Free Bed Pediatric Feeding Team

A variety of specialists are available to best meet the needs of each individual patient. 

Rehabilitation Nurse (as needed)

  • Evaluates and monitors each patient, including height and weight
  • Develops care plans
  • Focuses on patient’s progress and education
  • Collaborates with other care providers

Occupational Therapist (OT)

  • Evaluates any difficulty the patient has swallowing and adjusts diet, as needed
  • Makes recommendations for treatment
  • Teaches techniques and skills for eating and drinking
  • Helps with fitting and customizing adaptive equipment

Speech-Language Therapist

  • Evaluates any difficulty the patient has swallowing and adjusts diet, as needed
  • Makes recommendations for treatment
  • Teaches techniques and skills for eating and drinking
  • Helps with fitting and customizing adaptive equipment

Psychologist (as needed)

  • Reviews child and family needs and provides services, as needed
  • Recommends behavior management approaches for treatment team and caregivers

Registered Dietician/Dietician Assistant (as needed)

  • Evaluates nutritional needs
  • Provides individualized nutrition therapy and education for patient and patient’s family

Social Worker (as needed)

  • Reviews child and family needs
  • Recommends community resources, as needed

Intensive Feeding Program

Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids offers an Intensive Feeding Program for pediatric patients needing comprehensive evaluation and management of dysphagia (difficulty or pain when swallowing). The program is located at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in the Mary Ives Hunter Center (360 Layfayette SE). For more information on the Intensive Feeding Program, please visit the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital website.

Contact Mary Free Bed's Pediatric Feeding Program

For more information about feeding or swallowing, or to make a referral to Mary Free Bed's Pediatric Feeding Program, please contact the Feeding Program:

616.242.0366 or 800.668.6001


Outpatient Referral Form

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