Learning to Eat And Drink

Learning to eat and drink is a complicated process, where many factors influence, for example the health of the child, the behavior of the child, the interaction between parent and child and the so-called mouth motor skills of the child. These oral motor skills are for example: drinking from the chest bottle, getting used to flavors, eating a spoon, chewing and drinking from a cup.

This page provides a description of the development of eating and drinking, with an emphasis on oral motor skills. It is important to remember that there are differences between children within normal development. So mmige children start chewing with 8 months, some earlier and some children just later.

If the development of the oral motor functions does not progress, or if your child refuses, this is a reason to contact the general practitioner, the clinic or a speech therapist with the registration preverbal speech therapy. A speech therapist with the registration preverbal speech therapy is specialized in feeding problems and mouth motor skills in young children.

Before birth

In the womb the bab

y receives nutrition via the umbilical cord. So the baby does not have to eat or drink. In the womb, however, the baby already makes sucking and swallowing movements. Sometimes the baby drinks some amniotic fluid or the baby sucks on the thumb or fingers (see video below). This is seen as a preparation for self-drinking after birth.

0-6 months

From birth the baby is no longer fed via the umbilical cord, but the child has to (learn to) drink. In the first days after birth, the child learns to drink from the breast or bottle. Reflexes play a role here. During the first months, the baby only drinks breast and / or bottle feeding. Depending on the development of the child, after 4 to 6 months a new step is taken in the eating: learning to eat a spoon and learning to eat other food (besides breast and / or bottle feeding).

Nutritional reflexes

Immediately after birth, the baby has a number of reflexes needed to drink. A reflex is an automatic reaction to a stimulus. Consider, for example, the automatic retraction of the hand when you touch something hot.

A newborn baby can learn to drink thanks to 4 reflexes: the suction-swallow reflex, the breast reflex reflex, the gag reflex and the cough reflex. Because of the suction-swallow reflex, the baby begins to suck and swallow when the mouth area is stimulated. The breast reflex reflex means that when the cheek of the child is gently touched, the child turns the head that way. This allows the baby to find the nipple of the mother to drink. The gag reflex protects the airways and the digestive tract against inedible things. When the back of the throat is stimulated, the baby gagging. The cough reflex is present to protect the airways and will occur when food or saliva enter the upper respiratory tract. A number of reflexes change during the first year.

Learning to drink: suck, swallow and breathe

Because the mouth-throat area is used for both breathing and eating, the child must find a balance between breathing, sucking and swallowing when drinking. In the womb the child has learned to suck and lick. After the birth, sucking and swallowing should be geared to breathing. In babies born on time, it usually takes 1 to 3 days to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing. While suckling the child can breathe, but not during swallowing. It is possible that there are children who can suck well on a pacifier, but have trouble sucking (drinking), which they also have to swallow.

Drinking from the breast and / or the bottle

Drinking from the breast is generally seen as the most ideal way for babies to get nutrition. The composition of the mother’s milk is in fact tailored to the needs of the baby. Another advantage of breastfeeding is that the nipple adjusts to suction and tongue movements of the baby, making drinking easier. During breastfeeding, the baby can determine its own pace: if the baby stops sucking, milk flow stops. With bottle feeding, the flow of food is not always adjusted to the pace of the baby. There are solutions with different teats for this (see  advice ).

Eating le pel

When learning to eat a spoon, the child has to make all kinds of new movements with the mouth. First, it is important that the child learns to close the tabs around the spoon. Secondly, the child has to learn to bring the food back with the tongue. In the beginning, the baby will often suckle on the spoon, causing the food to be pushed out of the mouth. On average, children need 5 to 6 weeks to learn how to eat from a spoon. It is generally recommended to start with spoon feeding around 4 to 6 months.

First snacks and supplement

The WHO recommends starting with supplementary feeding around 4 to 6 months. Research shows that children get used to new tastes between 4 and 8 months more easily than afterwards. Indications that the child is ready for the first snacks are that the child’s toy or the hands is mouth shut and interested looks at other food. When offering the first snacks it is necessary that the baby can sit stably in for example a maxicosi, a bouncer or on your lap.

The first snacks are exercise snacks and do not replace breast or bottle feeding. They are meant to get used to new tastes and structures. The first snacks are thin and liquid, for example well-mashed fruit / vegetables or porridge. If the child can eat this, the food can gradually be extended, with several types of fruit and vegetables, and it can also be varied with different thicknesses. Usually children need a number of repetitions to get used to a new taste (about 3-5 times for fruit and 8-10 times for vegetables). It is important to practice 1 taste for a number of days. If the child is used to a taste, it can be switched to a new taste so that the child can get used to different tastes.

From 6 months on, snacks can be given as a supplement in addition to complete milk feeding. From 8 months on supplementary food can replace milk.

6-12 months

In this period, the child learns to chew first and then it can eat with the pot. The child has to learn a lot for this. The food has different tastes, structures and temperatures. Children have to get used to that. One child is more sensitive to new tastes and structures than the other. Give your child time to work here. The child can also start to eat more and more with time, for example, holding a bottle or putting food in the mouth.

New types of food

From 6 months on, the baby needs more nutrition than just breast or bottle feeding. The child must now learn to eat new things. Both mother’s milk and artificial nutrition are reasonably neutral in taste and slightly sweet. Children have to get used to new tastes. Research shows that children get used to new tastes between 4 and 8 months more easily than afterwards. Usually children need a number of repetitions to get used to a new taste (about 3-5 times for fruit and 8-10 times for vegetables). It is important to practice 1 taste for a number of days. If the child is used to a taste, it can be switched to a new taste so that the child can get used to different tastes.

In addition to a different taste, other food also has a different structure than breast / bottle feeding. Here too, children have to get used to it. Usually starting with food that is as smooth as possible (eg fruit) or porridge. The table below describes the age from which on average starts with the nutrition of different structures. When the baby starts eating solid food for the first time, it can gag the first time, because it has to get used to the new stimuli in the back of the throat. Children who often put things in their mouth, such as toys or their own hands, generally gagged less, because they are used to other structures in their mouths.

The first snacks are often fruit / vegetables or porridge, but also potato, meat (substitute) or fish. It is often culturally determined with which snacks are started. There is no evidence that it is better to start with one of these types of food. There is evidence that children often have to get used to products with a lot of fiber (such as bread, pasta and rice). Their intestines are not used to that yet. Therefore it is recommended to build up fiber slowly, and not for 6-7 months.

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