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The Critical Milestones of Feeding Development

While many parents know that Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) treat speech and language disorders, you might not know that SLPs also treat children with feeding difficulties. Strong feeding abilities are vital to help infants and children with growth and development and a child’s relationship with food can have long-term consequences.

There are various milestones each child will meet for the first three years. Feeding abilities differ from child to child, but most children follow a predictable progression of feeding and swallowing stages. The following list serves as a guide of the critical milestones expected for feeding development. As with any milestones, there is a range of normal. You should contact a qualified feeding therapist if you have any concerns.

Birth - 4 Months

  • Can only digest liquids (milk or formula)

  • Has oral reflexes for suckling and swallowing well

  • Recognizes a nipple or bottle

  • Latches onto nipple or bottle

  • Tongue is able to move forward and backwards for suckling

4-6 Months

  • Begins to show an interest in solid food

  • Mouths and gums solid foods

  • Opens mouth when food is presented

  • Moves from only suckling to sucking

  • Introduction of pureed foods and cereals can occur during this time

  • Moves pureed foods from front of mouth to back

  • Can sit up in a highchair

6-9 Months

  • Can hold and drink from a bottle while seated in a high chair

  • Introduction of open cups held by an adult can begin at this age (6 months) - some loss of liquid is expected

  • Opens mouth and wait for the spoon to enter

  • Uses upper lip to clean off the spoon

  • Begins to eat thicker pureed and mashed table foods

  • Gag reflex declines as child becomes used to solid foods

  • Early chewing develops and babies learn to coordinate sucking and up and down munching

  • Feeds self crackers

9-12 Months

  • Chewing using a rotary jaw action emerges

  • Ready to eat an increased variety of foods, progressing from mashed foods with noticeable lumps to soft cooked vegetables, soft fruits, and finger foods

  • Can take most of their liquids through a cup and drink through a straw

  • Might be ready to start self feeding with utensils

12-18 Months

  • Most children stop using their bottles and begin to exclusively drink from open or straw cups

  • Drinks with four or five consecutive swallows

  • Controlled biting skills improve and children can bite through a hard cookie if teeth are present

  • Uses tongue to move food around the mouth easily

  • Eats chopped table food and participate in family meals

  • Able to bring a spoon to mouth, turning spoon over en route

18-24 Months

  • Chews a broad range of food

  • Self-feeds most of the time

  • Able to swallow with lip closure, although may not do so all the time

  • Has precise up and down tongue movement

  • Can eat and drink with no spillage

  • Chews using a variety of jaw movements, including round and round, up and down, and side to side

  • Develops clear preferences for certain foods

24-36 Months

  • Able to manage any type of food (still necessary to cut some foods that are choking hazards)

  • Eats the same food at meal times as the family

  • Has clear likes and dislikes of foods and may develop picky eating habits

  • Able to use utensils well to stab food with a fork and scoop with a spoon with little spillage

  • Can help you cook and clean up

Children will continue to refine their feeding skills as they grow. If you have any concerns about your child’s feeding skills, contact us to request a feeding assessment with one of our speech-language pathologists.

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