Feeding is a fundamental aspect of infant development, as it is the primary means by which babies obtain the nutrients and energy necessary for growth and development. The process of feeding in infants is complex and involves a range of physiological and behavioral processes that evolve over time. In this blog post, we explore the development of feeding in infants, from birth through the first year of life.
Birth to 3 Months:
At birth, infants are primarily dependent on milk for their nutritional needs. Breast milk or formula provides all of the necessary nutrients for growth and development, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. During the first few months of life, infants consume relatively small amounts of milk at frequent intervals, typically every 2-3 hours. At this stage, infants are unable to coordinate their suckling and swallowing reflexes, so they may pause frequently during feedings or experience difficulties with latching. Speech Pathologist’s can work with Lactation Consultants to support suck-swallow-breathe coordination and explore bottles that will best meet your baby’s skills to minimise fatigue, and maximise safety.
To ensure that infants are receiving sufficient nutrition, parents or caregivers should monitor their infant’s weight and growth and seek medical advice if they have any concerns. Additionally, parents or caregivers can support infants’ feeding by creating a comfortable and relaxed feeding environment and responding promptly to infants’ hunger cues. Again, Speech Pathologist’s are experts at reading these infant cues and can support Parents to respond to these.
3 to 6 Months:
Between 3 and 6 months of age, infants begin to develop more coordinated sucking and swallowing reflexes, which allows them to consume larger volumes of milk during each feeding. They also begin to develop the ability to sit upright with support. At this stage, some infants may also begin to show an interest in solid foods, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until 6 months of age to introduce solid foods. Any experience with foods prior to this might be to explore tastes and textures without a focus on nutritional intake.
To support feeding development during this stage, caregivers can continue to offer frequent feedings, and may also introduce a variety of feeding positions to facilitate comfortable and efficient milk transfer. Parents or caregivers should also be aware of infants’ hunger and fullness cues and avoid forcing infants to finish a bottle or continue feeding if they appear full. Ensuring that primitive reflexes integrate during this time can ensure that more mature feeding patterns are able to emerge.
6 to 9 Months:
Between 6 and 9 months of age, many infants are ready to begin exploring solid foods, although they will still rely primarily on breast milk or formula for their nutritional needs. As infants develop the ability to sit upright without support and use their hands to grasp objects, they can begin to experiment with a variety of textures and flavours. Offering hand-fed foods or utensils can be a fun challenge at this stage. Parents or caregivers can introduce pureed or mashed fruits, vegetables, and meats, and gradually transition to more complex textures.
As children experiment and place foods further back on their tongue, they move their gag reflex back, which paves the way for new mealtime experiences. Encouraging discriminative mouthing of non-food objects is also key during this phase. To read more about this visit; https://mosaicrehabmt.com/why-is-it-important-for-babies-to-mouth/
Parents or caregivers should also continue to offer breast milk or formula as the primary source of nutrition and ensure that infants are receiving sufficient amounts of iron and other essential nutrients.
Tongue lateralisation should progress to allow children to sweep foods from the centre to the sides of the mouth, and diagonal movements of the jaw start to emerge to move toward a more efficient chewing pattern as teeth erupt.
9 to 12 Months:
Between 9 and 12 months of age, infants continue to explore new foods and develop their self-feeding skills. They may begin to express preferences for certain foods or textures, and may show increased interest in participating in family meals. At this stage, infants will still rely on breast milk or formula as the primary source of nutrition, but solid foods will play an increasingly important role in their diet.
To support infants’ feeding development during this stage, parents or caregivers can continue to offer a variety of healthy foods and provide infants with opportunities to practice self-feeding and explore new textures and flavours. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until 12 months of age to introduce cow’s milk to the diet. Speech Pathologist’s can support your child to develop these critical oral motor skills in time, and provide insight into the sensory aspects of mealtimes that might be impacting preferences (e.g. the sights, smells, textures, flavours and feels of foods as they move in the mouth and are prepared for swallowing).
If you want to dive more deeply into the key oral motor developments in the first 12 months of life, check out the SOS feeding developmental milestones summary here: https://sosapproachtofeeding.com/developmental-milestones-free/