Problem Solving: Thickening with NICU Graduate

I have not yet personally seen this baby (he’s 2-3 months old), but got some background info from our NICU ST. I’m trying to brainstorm before he sees me for a follow up appointment. Baby had VFSS in NICU and was safe on thickened formula (nectar, I believe) with baby oatmeal. Baby never took off with feeding while in the NICU and was d/c with NG and doing 1-2 bottles/day. As baby has been home he’s having painful constipation issues and thickened feeds have stopped. Baby is to have follow up with GI, but will end up seeing me before them.
He’s coming back as an outpatient for a repeat VFSS. Now, in a perfect world he’ll pass without thickener… but if not, I’m wondering what my options are for thickening feeds? Has anyone thickened for infants with something other than baby oatmeal/rice cereal? Is there another option besides cereal and NG tube?

Late responding to this thread. You may have already seen this infant for the repeat VFSS by now. We don’t know much about his history except that he was in NICU, which leaves a wide potential for possible co-morbidities that would be important to your differential in radiology. The GI discomfort you mention makes EER/GER a possible co-mrobidities but there are likely others that you will want to both peel apart and consider together “synactively” to better understand his dynamic swallow and its function during feeding given what you find out about his feeding “environment”, i.e., how he is fed, bottle used, his clinical presentation while he feeds and post-feeding behaviors

Hopefully you were able to get more information about why he was placed on nectar thick liquids post-NICU VFSS – the etiology for the apparent bolus mis-direction should guide you in the follow up study and help you problem-solve as well as look at optimal interventions to address that etiology –sometimes thickening is viewed as a solution but it is not, as you know. As Suzanne Evans Morris said years ago, it is merely a step along the way to improved swallowing. When the VFSS analysis and synthesis of information informs our understanding of the infant’s physiology, we can then develop a plan of care to address both the etiology as well as an interim plan to optimize safety.

We try both in the NICU and with infants either post-NICU, or who were never in NICU, to avoid thickening whenever possible. Because toady we have so many flow controlled nipple options, we are much more able in radiology to find a nipple flow rate combined with co-regulated pacing that optimizes bolus size and enhances timing of the suck-swallow-breathe sequence. There aren’t many options to thicken for infants. Our GI docs have concern for grain allergy in infants, increased constipation, and other MD specialist often have their own concerns (altering of caloric density and nutrients, electrolyte balance, free water etc.) Gel Mix is a newer carob bean based thickening product developed by a GI doc that some hospitals are using for some post-term infants. You can find more information on the internet or by talking to its developer. It is often helpful to partner with the attending, in this case likely a pediatrician, to ask, if thickening appears to be the least problematic option, what would he prefer his patient receive. As many previous list serve threads have expressed, the answers for each patient must be individualized, be the product of a team’s perspectives, and its effects be assessed in an on-going manner. It is challenging to live in the “gray” zone where the answers are not black and white nor are they immediately clear, but require deliberate and reflective thinking. Each of us in radiology is faced daily with this dilemma, and I think it makes us better clinicians at the end of the day. Our physician colleagues have always considered risk-benefit ratios for their patients regarding multiple options, and we can do no less, considering all levels of evidence and family/team input.

I hope this is helpful. Keep us posted on what the repeat VFSS suggested.


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