This is the second out of four articles in the Infant & Toddler Forum series focused on the development of toddler feeding skills. This article looks at the development of specific feeding and eating skills. These skills allow your child to cope with the changes of diet that occur as they grow up.
These motor skills are mapped out to show when each is likely to develop. However, although these skills might be in place, complementary food should not be introduced until the recommended four to six month introductory period.
Oral Motor development (function of the lips, jaw and teeth)
Sucking and swallowing
Newborn infants can only cope initially with sucking and swallowing liquids. They can adapt to different types of milk flow, e.g. milk from the breast or the bottle. From birth, an infant will open their mouth to suck their fist, especially if they are hungry.
The gag reflex
This will be present in your baby from birth; it is a response that protects them from swallowing and choking on pieces of food that are too large. The European guidelines for the introduction of solid/complementary foods is between four and six months. As your baby gets used to complementary foods, the gag reflex usually declines.
If pureed or smooth foods are introduced between four and six months, your baby will be learning to control their tongue. It might look as if your baby is pushing the food out of their mouth. This doesn’t mean they dislike the food, they just need a bit more practice with tongue control.
A newborn baby can move the tongue up and down within the mouth, and in and out of the mouth, but their mouth is too small for anything other than liquid. Side to side movement is triggered by food in the mouth.
Opening mouth in response to spoon
This is a response that is usually seen in babies from four months of age, although it has been reported in those as young as two weeks and as old as nine months of age.
Clearing the spoon with the top lip
This usually happens from around seven months of age, and spoon-feeding before this age may require you to wipe the food from the spoon onto your baby’s top lip.
From around six months, after the introduction of lumpy solids, babies can co-ordinate all of their mouth movements; sucking, biting, and up and down munching. Most babies who are introduced to more solid textured foods at around six months will be chewing well by the age of twelve months and are able to cope with most foods by the age of two.
A baby’s first tooth usually appears at around six months. All milk teeth are usually present by the age of three years. Children can bite hard textured foods, such as a cracker, from the age of around eight months. However they will be able to bite into hard foods when both upper and lower front teeth have developed.
Most babies can feed themselves with food held in their hands by the age of eight months and most can feed themselves from a spoon without spilling at about 15 – 18 months.
Most babies can sip liquids from a closed cup by themselves by eleven months. They can however sip from a closed cup with your help from a much earlier age. Few infants can drink from an open cup until they are over 19 months of age.