Cerebral Palsy and Nutrition

Please note that any child’s pediatrician should be consulted prior to initiating a diet plan. This is not intended to be medical advice.

When children have cerebral palsy, there are problems in communication between their brain and their muscles. The condition can affect muscles throughout the body, including oral-facial muscles, which means a child may have trouble swallowing, chewing, and simply holding liquid in their mouth.

When a baby can’t drink milk because it leaks out of their mouth, or a child has a difficult time chewing and swallowing food, nutritional problems can occur. Poor nutrition can cause problems with weight gain, and it can even make the child more vulnerable to infections. Some children with cerebral palsy struggle so much with movement that they burn a lot of calories. Their metabolic demand is so high that they have a hard time taking in enough calories, especially if eating is difficult for them.

Feeding strategies

Nutrition is very important for children with cerebral palsy.  Listed below are a few feeding strategies that parents can use to help their child get adequate nutrition: 

  • To facilitate swallowing, parents can prepare semi-solid food, such as strained fruits and vegetables
  • Sit baby upright and extend the neck away from the body to help prevent choking

How are reflux and cerebral palsy related?

Reflux can be a problem for children with cerebral palsy, usually due to problems with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. Reducing intake of certain foods can help prevent this uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous problem. Reflux also increases the risk of choking.

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Foods that can cause reflux

  • Dairy products (such as whole milk, regular cheese, sour cream, ice cream and creamy sauces)
  • High fat foods (such as French fries, onion rings and potato chips)
  • High-fat meats (such as bacon)
  • Tomatoes and citrus fruits are foods that can cause or worsen reflux (1)
  • Chocolate can also be a trigger for reflux (2)

Foods that can help reduce symptoms of reflux

  • Fiber may help protect against reflux. One study found that people who ate a diet high in fiber were 20% less likely to experience reflux.
  • Decreasing the child’s consumption of starches and avoiding the combination of starch with an animal protein can help prevent both constipation and reflux. Some good starches to eat are brown rice, lentils, quinoa and yams.
  • Half a teaspoon of cod liver oil every day is good for the brain and eyes. DHA, the fatty acid found in fish oil, is critical for nervous system development.
  • Protein such as chicken, lentils, or salmon at every meal is a healthy way to increase calorie consumption.
  • A wide variety of vegetables is also very healthy, and one way to accomplish this is to make a stew. Celery, carrots, leeks, parsnips, spinach, peas and scallions are some of the vegetables recommended by dieticians.
  • Adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to meals or bottles is a great way to add fat that is easy to digest. It also improves immune function. Healthy fats, such as olive oil, are crucial for energy and brain development.
  • Adding agave nectar is also a good way to increase calorie consumption, and it is easy to digest.
  • Other options for obtaining extra calories and improving nutrition are to have the child drink Ensure, Ensure Plus, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Sustacal, and Pediasure, which are nutritional supplements that can be found in grocery and drug stores. A pediatrician should be consulted before implementing any diet plan or starting a new nutritional supplement.

Strategies for chewing

Many children with cerebral palsy have a risk of choking or inhaling food into their airway, which can lead to severe respiratory problems. Specialists can recommend techniques to help a child develop the ability to chew. For example, offering a child dried apricots or fruit straps in between meals is one method that can help with chewing development. Another option is that food can be wrapped in a piece of muslin, then child can practice chewing on it, with the parent having control so that actual swallowing does not take place.

A pediatrician and dietician should be always consulted for help with a diet plan, as well as maneuvers to help the child eat. 

Should I contact an attorney?

ABC Law Centers: Birth Injury Lawyers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources.

If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win.

Related Reading


  1. Jarosz, M., & Taraszewska, A. (2014). Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease: the role of diet. Przeglad gastroenterologiczny, 9(5), 297–301. https://doi.org/10.5114/pg.2014.46166
  2. Publishing, H. (2023, July 20). What to eat when you have chronic heartburn. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-to-eat-when-you-have-chronic-heartburn

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