23 May 2017The Importance of Nutrition with Cerebral Palsy

Food and activity trackers are not just tools for people who are trying to lose weight. For example, parents of children with cerebral palsy (CP) can use trackers like MyNetDiary to monitor their child's nutrition intake and activity to help promote healthy growth and development.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects a child's movement, motor skills, and muscle tone. Cerebral refers to brain and palsy refers to movement. It is thought that most cases of CP are caused by brain damage during pregnancy or during or shortly after birth. It affects around 1 in 345 children in the US and the severity and type of CP can vary widely. The condition can affect any muscles in the body. Trouble with balance, stiff muscles, abnormal movement, bowel problems, poor joint mobility and difficulty swallowing are a few of the complications that can make good nutrition and physical fitness a challenge.

Working closely with a health care team can help parents to plan out a child's treatment so that they can manage the challenges and live a productive life. Often a healthcare team includes a dietitian, social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech therapist, who guide the family with resources, and provide advice and support.

The extent of difficulty with eating and drinking can vary with CP. Mealtimes can be challenging and may last longer than usual. Children with CP often have trouble swallowing food. Safe swallow is important to prevent food from entering the airways which can lead to pneumonia. Some children may require soft foods that are easier to swallow or may need thickeners to make a consistency safe for swallowing. They may lack coordination skills needed to feed themselves. It may require a lot of training, practice and patience for a child to learn to get food to their mouth. This can make mealtime messy and can last longer than usual. Special adaptive feeding tools may be necessary.

Children with CP need to incorporate physical fitness according to their individual needs and capabilities. A physical therapist can help guide the family to find the right fitness routine. This is important for maintaining muscle and bone strength. Children who are less active while also getting inadequate nutrition are at risk for having weak and brittle bones and weak muscles.

A registered dietitian nutritionist can help guide parents with knowing if a child is getting adequate calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Regular weight checks at clinic visits are needed to monitor weight and growth trends. Tracking food intake can help provide the information needed for assessment and progress. Sometimes formulas or supplements are added to the diet to boost the nutritional intake. Additional vitamin and mineral supplements may also be needed, like calcium and vitamin D for bone health. In some cases, a supplemental gastric feeding tube may be needed for extra nutrition when a child is not getting enough nutrition by mouth. This might be difficult to accept but it can also result in more relaxed and enjoyable mealtimes for the family knowing that supplemental calories can be provided via the feeding tube.

Information and guidance for cerebral palsy can be found at:

Cerebral Palsy Guidance

Kids Health

United Cerebral Palsy Association

The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

There is currently no cure for CP, however, there are treatment options that can help children live quality, productive lives that can lead to successful adult lives.

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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