Adapted from “Development of Feeding Progression,” by Erin Sundseth Ross, from Pediatric Feeding Disorders: Evaluation and Treatment (2012).
While most people could tell you that babies typically start eating solids around 6 months, few understand why. Just like other areas of child development, oral feeding follows a typical progression of skills.
Prenatal: Developing babies start demonstrating sucking and swallowing movements as early as 14 weeks gestation.
Birth-3 months: Initially feeding is largely reflexive and characterized by a suckling pattern (front to back movement), but becomes volitional and transitions to a sucking pattern (up and down movement). Babies also begin bringing hands to midline and may hold mom’s breast or their bottle.
5-7 months: Baby is physically able to sit up in a high chair and support their own head and neck. Initially babies may thrust food out of their mouths. Soon they will begin using a mix of suckling and sucking to clear food from the spoon, move it backward in the oral cavity, and swallow. Tongue lateralization, or movement side to side, forms around 6 months. Tongue lateralization is important to forming cohesive balls of food for swallowing.
7-9 months: Once babies are sitting independently, they transition to finger foods. Their ability to voluntarily pick up and release objects develops around 8 months. Early chewing is typically a munching pattern. Small up and down movements of the teeth and gums are used to break down food.
10-24 months: Between 10 and 12 months rotary chewing emerges, adding a shredding movement to the vertical chewing (helpful for table foods!). Children begin to use utensils around 11 months; they are expected to use a spoon between 12 and 18 months. Efficiency with utensils continues to improve until mastered around 36 months.
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