A baby or child with an oral aversion is one who refuses to eat or who doesn't eat enough. Premature babies are at risk for developing oral aversions, which can be very frustrating for parents, caregivers, and the babies themselves.
Preemies may develop oral aversions after having unpleasant stimuli to their mouths or faces. Many common NICU procedures are painful and can cause babies to try to push or turn away from anything that comes near their faces, even a pacifier, bottle, or mom's breast. NICU procedures that may increase the risk for oral aversions include:
- Intubation and mechanical ventilation
- Frequent suctioning
- Long-term use of NG or OG tubes
- Inappropriate oral feedings in the NICU
Pleasant stimuli to the face, use of pain control medications and techniques, and starting feedings gently can help prevent oral aversions in preemies. If your baby develops an oral aversion, he or she will need to work with an occupational therapist to help overcome it. Some babies may need to be tube fed during treatment, or may need treatment at a special feeding clinic.