Cerebral Palsy Nutrition Guide

Patient Care, Tips for Parents

Young girl with mother and nutritionist holding apple over her head

All children need a nutritious and balanced diet for healthy development. But children with cerebral palsy have certain physical challenges and potential nutritional deficiencies that make it crucial to carefully monitor and plan their daily diet. For those reasons, nutrition therapy is often an integral part of caring for a child with CP.

Do Children with Cerebral Palsy Have Specific Nutrition Needs?

Many families report that their child has difficulties with feeding, swallowing, or digestion. Because children with CP experience complications with movement, muscle tone, and motor skills, mealtime can be difficult and even uncomfortable for them. Motor issues are commonplace among children with cerebral palsy. Depending on the severity of the condition, some of these children may lack the coordination necessary to feed themselves or to chew and swallow safely.

What’s more, digestive issues—such as constipation and gastroesophageal reflux—can make eating uncomfortable. These challenges make it hard for children with CP to get enough to eat, which can result in malnutrition and/or poor growth.

The right diet—and feeding techniques, when necessary—can ensure that children with CP have a positive and productive eating experience and get the nutrients they need at every meal. Additionally, help from a trained and skilled nutrition counselor or dietitian can be invaluable: they can come up with a comprehensive plan for the diet, substance, and supplements to meet your child’s nutritional needs.

What Causes Nutritional Deficits in Children with Cerebral Palsy?

Some of the factors that may cause nutritional deficits include:

  • Oral motor dysfunction or problems with chewing, eating, and swallowing because of weakness in the jaw, throat, tongue, and facial muscles
  • Lack of appetite because of constipation or gastroesophageal reflux
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Chronic pulmonary aspiration
  • Choking or drooling
  • Frequent infections
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence
  • Increased nutritional needs due to muscle weakness

What Are the Dietary Needs of Children with Cerebral Palsy?

A nutritious diet is a must for any growing child, as it regulates growth and weight gain and improves immune function, circulation, and cognition. It can also balance emotional states and help speed recovery from illness. Children with cerebral palsy should have a daily diet that’s high in these vitamins and minerals:

  • Calcium. Found in milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines, fortified juices, and cereals, calcium is essential for muscle and bone health
  • Vitamin D. Found in fish, fish liver oil, and supplemented milks, cereals, and orange juice, vitamin D helps the body retain and absorb nutrients
  • Copper. This can help with iron absorption and ward off infections
  • Vitamin C. Found in citrus fruits and many other vegetables, vitamin C helps battle common illnesses and has mood-boosting properties
  • Phosphorus. This nutrient is found in meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy products, seeds, whole grains, and nuts
  • Magnesium. This helps with bone strength, cell communication, and energy production

Make sure your child’s diet includes lots of vegetables and fruits, including dark, leafy greens, and any others that are high in vitamins and minerals. Additional supplements might also be necessary based on the specific needs of your child.

Why Nutrition Therapy Is a Must for Children with Cerebral Palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy affect every child differently. That’s why it’s so important to have an individual nutritional evaluation and make a plan with a certified nutritionist, as well as your child’s doctor.

After requesting a detailed food record of what your child eats on a daily basis, your child’s nutritional therapist will determine whether your child is consuming the correct number of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, and fluids—which will all depend on your child’s age, weight, height, and level of physical activity. Additionally, they will assess your food administration processes, your child’s physical activity and function, any medications, and diagnostic and medical histories. Analyzing all of this information, the specialist will be able to create a customized diet plan to ensure that your child maintains a healthy weight and receives all the necessary nutrients.

A dietitian or nutritional specialist can also help monitor and evaluate your child’s dietary plan, pinpoint potential issues, recommend ways to ensure proper mouth care, and provide nutritional counseling. They can recommend ways to prepare food to ease some of the issues your child may be experiencing, as well as ways for feeding that may make the process easier. In addition to consulting with your nutritionist, make follow-up doctor’s appointments to maintain healthy growth and weight, based on your child’s changing needs as they age.

Are Additional Dietary Measures Necessary?

Based on the individual needs of your child, a nutritionist or doctor may recommend certain calorie, vitamin, mineral, or protein supplements. For children who have issues swallowing or chewing, food may become blocked in their lungs or airway, causing respiratory illness. In this case, it may be necessary to implement changes in food texture or thickness—such as drinking smoothies or even tube feeding—to ensure that your child is eating safely and maintaining proper health and weight.

Experienced Cerebral Palsy Attorneys Who Care About Your Family

Many families report that their child’s cerebral palsy was the result of negligence by a doctor, medical professional, or the hospital itself. If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of medical malpractice, we’re here to help. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs can assist you in uncovering the truth behind your child’s CP diagnosis, and seeking the compensation you need to provide a lifetime of care. Contact us today so we can help you secure the brightest future possible for your child


Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?