My child seems to have constant ear infections. Do you think this is related to her picky eating?
The short answer to this one is: yes, probably!
Kids who experience chronic ear infections (or sometimes even just one) can find eating VERY difficult. One of the biggest issues is the pain associated with biting and chewing when you have sore ears. In a healthy ear, the Eustachian tubes allow small amounts of air, mucus or fluid to pass through to equalise pressure. When the Eustachian tubes become swollen or inflamed,
the fluid becomes trapped and pressure builds up in the middle ear (and bang- an ear infection). When a child moves his jaw up and down to chew, this creates additional pressure through his cheeks and ears. I've been told this intense pressure can feel like 'your face might blow off!'
Imagine feeling such extreme pressure building up every time you had a snack, and then think about how often your child is eating. If you're a child without an intimate knowledge of how the ear works, what do you think you might attribute that pain to? Simple- food equals PAIN. No amount of rationalising or explaining can help that child understand that what they're eating isn't responsible. Instead, they learn to be suspicious of food. In my experience, they start opting for foods that are easy to chew and easy to swallow, like yoghurt. In the quest to avoid pain, they start to become specific about what they will and won't eat. Even when the ear infection has cleared, there's still some fear remaining and this impacts on their food choices. We see this as fussy or picky eating, without necessarily understanding the trigger.
So what do we do? First up, we take the pressure off the child to eat foods they used to eat. Adding pressure or stress to existing fear will never work. Secondly, when an ear infection occurs, we let our kids know that we understand that eating might hurt. We can help them choose foods that might be easier to swallow (and we get them to the doctor ASAP!) Lastly, when they're well, we help children to remember that food can be fun, without being scary. The way we do this depends on the child and how long they've been dealing with these mealtime difficulties.
If your baby, toddler or child has associated eating with pain, and you'd like some help to reverse this process, please get in touch.
Submit your questions about fussy eating or childhood nutrition here. Appointments available in Perth, Western Australia.