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Feeding and Speech Development

Monday, August 01, 2011
Babies are all very different and develop at different stages; this includes their ability to learn how to take solids and to speak.  Some factors that may contribute to oral and speech development can be their environment, birth order, being a twin, their personality or have parents or caregivers speak to them in more than one language.  Even their parent’s skills and abilities could affect not only their ability to take solids but also the development of their speech.

Things that may affect them from a more physical aspect can range from their personal neurological, motor, visual and cognitive development.  Their development may be delayed due to their oral anatomy or oromotor skills, hearing ability and general health.
 

Oral experiences


Early feeding skills and experience are very important in the development of oral movements and the coordination for speech.  Some of these experiences include breast and bottle feeding, the use of a dummy and even the type of dummy used, mouthing on toys, finger foods, the introduction of a spoon, sipper cup, regular cup and a cup with a straw.

Not only the introduction of different oral experiences but the introduction and presentation of this experience can affect the way a child feel about these experiences.  Was it a positive or negative experience?  Was the experience successful or not?  Many mothers find it very difficult and stressful to breastfeed, both they and their baby may struggle with the initial attachment others have decided it was best for both mother and baby to switch to a bottle so as not to obstruct the bonding between mother and child.

Types of oral development in babies


Early communication


Babies are born with a natural desire to suckle and communicate.  There first communication skills are very primitive but effective – to cry.  This cry soon develops so that their parents can distinguish the difference between a cry for hunger, pain and discomfort.  A baby’s cry is usually aimed to grab their parents attention which it generally does very effectively. 

Survival reflex


The second and most important of the oral reflexes come from a baby’s survival instinct.  These consist of four distinct reflexes; rooting, pouting, sucking and the gap reflex.

The rooting reflex is seen when a baby is first put to the breast and is crucial to early attachment and successful breastfeeding.  This reflex is stimulated by the touch to the corner of the baby’s mouth causing the baby to turn and open the mouth wide.  This helps depresses the gag reflex and brings the tongue forward over the gums.   If a baby is bottle fed try to imitate these actions to help with their oral development.
 
The pout reflex is stimulated to help a baby form a seal around the nipple or teat and causing the lips to flange forward.

The sucking reflex is then stimulated by contact to the hard palate stimulating the suckling movements of the tongue and jaw.
 
Lastly the gag reflex which is a natural response to touch at the back of the tongue, tonsils or soft palate.  This reflex is very important to help prevent choking but is normally suppressed while feeding.

The importance of oral development


There are several things that are important to oral development.  Firstly is of course the development of early suck-swallow coordination followed by early mouthing experiences which starts with milestones such as hand to mouth development and babbling which is commonly around 3 months.  Mouthing helps a baby desensitise their mouth and the gag reflex and is very important to a child oral development and should be encouraged by introducing toys your baby can hold and put in their mouth.  It is also important to spend time talk with your baby allowing them to vocalise and babble in response to your communication.  Rhymes, songs and games such as peek-a-boo can be introduced at this time.

Then at 4 month the introduction of solid foods and feeding equipment such as spoons, cup and straws will further develop their oral skills.
  
A suggestion for mothers breast feed is to introduce a bottle very early and to keep this experience up as this will assist the starting of solids later.   Babies who have not been introduced to a bottle within the first few weeks of their life and had the opportunity to continue this experience may around 3 months totally refuse to take a bottle which can be very frustrating for a mother that needs to return to work, becomes ill or needs to attend an important function.   This oral experience will also help your child when you begin to introduce solids.

Next month I would like to take a look at oral development when starting solids.

This article was written by mothercraft nurse Sally Hall from Cradle 2 Kindy Parenting Solutions. Call and find out how we can provide professional guidance to help you raise your children.

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