I would like to share a few ideas and facts on the importance of introducing textured foods to your baby’s diet and speech development. My daughter is nearly six and is a lively chatterbox who loves words and her own voice; she has excellent speaking skills for her age. She also loves to eat. It is as they say; she speaks so well ‘cos she eats so well! My toddler son, Llewellyn is almost 3 years old and fortunately also loves to eat (and talk) and so I find my creativity and resourcefulness challenged coming up with regular meals and snacks to still their ferocious appetites.
The introduction of solids in baby’s diet is not only important for nutritional reasons, but for the development of oral motor skills and sensory inputs that aid brain development. Oral motor skills 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. The introduction of textured foods is another important sensory input for the developing central nervous system, spurring on the development of increased tolerance for tactile input across the whole body.
When you introduce new foods into baby’s diet, it is important that the textures change from liquid to solid in keeping with baby’s feeding skills. 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. 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 are important for sounds m, p and b.
A delay in introducing solids with different textures as 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.
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, they therefore require breast milk or formula as their primary source of food. The jaw action used in breastfeeding practices the muscles for chewing skills later on. If your baby is bottle fed it is important to know that propping baby up with a bottle can be detrimental to his health and later speech development. Propping up baby with a bottle can cause some of the formula liquid to go up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear causing blocked ears or even ear infections; this in turn can negatively affect hearing and the vestibular system and can cause delays in speech development.
Baby has better head control, can put fingers in her mouth, and has a better range of mouth and lip movements. Her digestive system is still too immature to receive anything but breast milk or formula as her primary source of food.
Baby now has better jaw and lip control, with the ability to move his 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, baby will show signs that he is ready to be introduced to solid foods, which complements his primary source of food, either breast milk or formula. Baby’s digestive system is still maturing but from about 6 months, he needs more nutrients than breast milk 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 ideally be continued for the first 12 months of baby’s life and always offered before solids.
Note: If baby is able to sit upright, has good control of head and neck, wants to put things in his mouth, can suck pureed food from a spoon, is interested in your food, and is not satisfied with the breast or bottle alone he is probably ready for solid foods.
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, 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. Messy, but essential! Baby should also be encouraged to drink a little water from a cup.
Solids can now be coarsely chopped and consist of softer finger foods. Baby is more independent with eating and can 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. Baby should now be able to hold a cup to drink water from.
One year and on
Baby 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 baby grows, her motor skills become more refined and she learns more oral motor control. This is an ongoing process, which continues to develop speech.
I am grateful to my speech therapist friends for their contributions to this letter. As a mom and a child therapist I have a lot to do with the eating habits of young ones and their resultant developmental issues. In my Integrated Learning practice I assess brain and central nervous system development and help children develop learning readiness. Early sensory experiences like taste and the developmental achievement of eating form part of the building blocks of getting a brain learning ready. Please visit www.ilt.co.za for more information.
I hope these rough developmental guidelines will help you as mom navigate your little one’s nutritional and developmental needs.