The introduction of solids in your baby’s diet is not only important for nutritional reasons, but for the developmental of oral motor skills. These are the actions of the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks and jaw as they suck, bite, chew and lick. These motor skills work the same muscles in the mouth as those which are needed for speech development.
When foods are introduced into your baby’s diet, it’s important that as your baby’s feeding skills develop, that textures change from liquid to solid. Different textures require different oral motor skills, which are important for speech development. For example, pureed and lumpy food encourage chewing. Chewing helps develop the use of the tongue by giving it a good workout, which is important for many different speech sounds, i.e. t, d, k and g, as well as speech development. Solid foods help develop and strengthen the jaw, as well as the lips and tongue muscles, which are required for speech. The lips also help to keep food in the mouth, and is important for sounds m, p and b.
A delay in introducing solids with different textures as your baby develops, can lead to a fussy infant unwilling to accept new tastes and textures, as well as a delay in chewing and muscle development, which can affect speech sounds later on.
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Here is a brief overview of what to expect and when, as well as the types of food to introduce in the first 12 months:
Babies are only able to suck and swallow at this stage, and they have an immature digestive system, therefore require breastmilk or formula as their primary source of food. The jaw action used in breastfeeding helps a baby to chew.
Babies have better head control, are able to put fingers in their mouth, and have a better range of mouth and lip movements. Their digestive system is still immature to receive anything but breastmilk or formula as their primary source of food.
Babies now have better jaw and lip control, with the ability to move their tongue up and down which makes it easier to suck, chew and move food to the back of the mouth to be swallowed. Usually around 4-6 months, babies show signs that they are ready to be introduced to foods, which complements their primary source of food, either breastmilk or formula. A baby’s digestive system is still maturing but from about 6 months, a baby needs more nutrients than breastmilk or formula alone can offer, therefore solid foods are introduced. These solid foods need to be varied, nutrient and energy dense and have a silky smooth texture (pureed or mashed), which will make it easier to swallow and digest. Breast milk or formula must be continued for the first 12 months of a baby’s life and always offered before solids.
Note: Some signs that a baby might show that he/she is ready for solid foods include the baby is able to sit upright, has good control of head and neck, wants to put things in his/her mouth, ability to suck pureed food from a spoon, interest in food, and not satisfied with the breast or bottle alone.
Solids should now be well established with a lumpy, mashed and finely chopped texture, as well as well-cooked or soft finger foods from about 8 months (avoiding hard foods that a baby can choke on i.e. whole grapes, nuts and raw carrots). With better eye-hand coordination, a baby will show interest in self-feeding, which includes finger foods and the use of a spoon. Finger foods are more effective than purees to encourage chewing and development of muscles in the mouth. Babies should be encouraged to drink a little water from a cup.
Solids can now be coarsely chopped and consist of more soft finger foods. Babies are more independent with eating and are able to chew food well, separating what needs more chewing and what can be swallowed. Lip muscles are now stronger and are able to hold more food and liquid in the mouth. Babies should be able to hold a cup to drink water from.
1 year onwards
Children should now be eating frequently i.e. 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day, and a wide variety of family foods. Children now start to develop a rotary chewing movement, as well as a more stable jaw, which accommodates the action of the tongue. As children continue to grow, their motor skills become more refined and they learn more oral motor control. This is an ongoing process, which continues to develop speech.
If you are at all concerned about your child’s speech development I encourage you to seek a referral for a qualified speech therapist.Cherie Lyden is a Nutritionist and Mother – www.lydenvitality.com