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.

Cerebral palsy is a group of motor disorders that cause problems with muscle control, balance, posture and coordination. It is caused by an injury to the developing brain, which often occurs during or near the time of birth. 

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 strategies that some parents use to help their children get adequate nutrition. 

  • To facilitate swallowing, parents can prepare semi-solid food, such as strained fruits and vegetables. Sitting up and extending the neck away from the body can help prevent choking.
  • Reflux can be a problem for children with cerebral palsy (usually due to problems with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle), and reducing intake of certain foods can help prevent this uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous problem. Reflux increases the risk of choking.

Below is a list of foods that can cause reflux.

  • High fat foods, such as French fries, onion rings, whole milk, regular cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and potato chips, and high-fat meats, such as bacon and creamy sauces.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified tomatoes and citrus fruits as foods that can cause or worsen reflux (1).
  • Researchers from Harvard Medical School found chocolate to be a trigger for reflux (2).

Foods that can help reduce symptoms of reflux include the following:

  • 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 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 for any diet plan, and if the physician thinks that it would benefit the child, they may prescribe a nutritional supplement such as Jevity, Osmolite, Osmolite HN, Promote, Two Cal HN, or Vital.

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. Offering a child dried apricots or fruit straps in between meals is one method that can help with chewing development. Also, food can be wrapped in a piece of muslin, and the 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 consulted for help with a diet plan, as well as maneuvers to help the child eat. 

Legal help for cerebral palsy

ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.) is a national birth injury law firm that has been advocating for children for decades. Jesse Reiter, the co-founder of the firm, has been focusing solely on birth injury cases for over 25 years. He has been consistently recognized by U.S. News and World Report in their annual Best Lawyers publication, which also recognized ABC Law Centers in Best Law Firms. The attorneys at ABC Law Centers have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of prevalent organizations, such as the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ), among others.

Jesse and his team are passionate about helping children obtain all the support, therapy, and treatment they need for a good quality of life and a secure future. The team at ABC Law Centers will carefully review all medical records to determine if negligence occurred. 
Contact our birth injury attorneys and legal nurses in any of the following ways with any questions you may have. We do not charge any fees for our legal processes unless we win!

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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. (n.d.). What to eat when you have chronic heartburn. Retrieved December 27, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-to-eat-when-you-have-chronic-heartburn