Feeding and Oral-Motor Development Milestones

Oral-motor development is the process by which a child’s oral structures, such as the lips, tongue, and teeth, begin to work together to accomplish a variety of important tasks, such as eating and speaking. Proper motor skills for eating is important for a child’s nutrition. As a child grows, their nutritional needs will no longer be met solely by breast milk or formula, and will require a variety of foods. Increasingly advanced oral-motor skills are required in order to safely and efficiently consume these different foods.

Read below for some of the important milestones in oral-motor development as related to feeding:

Birth to 3 months

  • Babies are born with a suckling reflex that allows them to consume milk through a nipple
  • When an infant’s cheek is stroked, they will turn their head toward the nipple, signaling that they are ready to eat

3 to 6 months

  • Begins to eat rice cereal or pureed fruits and vegetables
  • Accepts food from a small toddler spoon during feeding
  • Brings hands up to a bottle during feeding, though needs assistance in stabilizing it

6 to 12 months

  • Holds the bottle independently
  • Eats a variety of pureed foods and cleans the spoon with upper lip
  • Begins to self-feed by grasping small foods, like Cheerios
  • Starts experimenting with sippy cup and straw

12 to 24 months

  • Beings to eat crunchy foods by biting down
  • Moves food from side to side in the mouth while chewing/processing
  • Begins to self-feed using a spoon, with assistance

2 to 3 years old

  • Drinks liquids from open cups and straws independently
  • Develops more advanced self-feeding skills using a spoon

3 to 5 years old

  • Chews and swallows more advanced food textures, such as meats and whole fruits
  • Begins to use a fork to “stab” food (with supervision)
  • Drinks independently from an open cup

While these milestones are critical in the process of developing feeding skills for nutrition, these are merely a guideline. Not all children will progress at the exact same rate. A physician may refer your child to an occupational therapist if he or she feels that these milestones are not being met appropriately. An therapist can help to support your child reach his or her maximum potential and needs!