There are many developmental milestones linked with your child’s nutrition.
The first reflexes, present at birth, are the sucking and rooting reflexes, which are vital to establish good breastfeeding. There’s also the gag reflex and the tongue thrust reflex that will prevent your baby from choking if anything more solid than milk touches his soft palate.
Although the gag reflex does persist into adulthood, it will start to diminish in intensity. At around 4-6 months, your baby’s sucking and tongue thrust reflexes become integrated to enable her to swallow soft, puréed food.
Important facts about breastfeeding
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, so only introduce complementary food on the advice of your health care provider.
Your baby is visually alert and interested in anything new. He’ll now be distracted during feed times and milk feeds may have to be given in peaceful and quiet surroundings.
One of the signs that your baby may be ready to eat solid food is that he’ll be able to hold his head up and watch you with interest when you eat. He may also reach out for your spoon or cup. He should also be able to hold his head up while sitting on your lap (with your hand around his waist) or supported (in an upright position) in his feeding chair, pram, or on a cushion.
From the age of six months, your little one will be able to sit and will begin to manipulate a spoon or will finger food in his whole hand (palmer grasp). He’ll also start to place his whole hand into his bowl of food to self-feed and will usually make a huge mess. Don’t worry about the mess. Encourage him to do this and use the opportunity to enhance all his senses.
Feeding and sensory stimulation – what you can do
Talk to him constantly about what he’s seeing (visual), touching (tactile), and eating (taste). Teach him appropriate sounds such as ‘yum’ or smacking your lips together. You can also encourage awareness of different smells such as vanilla, citrus, or a savoury stew. Allow him to play with and enjoy a variety of finger foods to encourage development of grip and finger dexterity. Encourage texture play (touch) with foodstuffs like spaghetti, other soft pasta shapes, lumpy custard, jelly, watermelon, coloured ice, chocolate pudding, and cereal.
During his first year, feeding and eating are generally perceived by your little one as an intensely social activity and a pleasurable and interesting interaction between yourself (or his caregivers) and him.
Don’t stress at this stage if he begins to resist mealtimes. He has better things to do! This is a normal developmental stage when autonomy and independence emerge. It’s important to have set meal and snack times every day and to always encourage him to eat sitting down and to eat in a consistent place. Avoid feeding in front of the television.
When your baby turns one, he can begin to drink from a sippy cup or suck on a straw while holding his own bottle or cup. He’ll also prefer to self-feed. It will take him a while to learn dexterity in wrist movement to keep his food on the spoon, so expect lots of mess. Teach him to spear his food with a little fork and and use the other hand to pull the food off the fork and into his mouth.
He may also resist sitting in his high chair. This indicates he’s ready to sit in a low chair at a small table.
Around this age your toddler will keep food on his fork or spoon and will manipulate these utensils with ease. He should be able to sit in a chair at his own table or on a booster cushion at the main table.
Teach him about boundaries at the table, such as not throwing food and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Watch your own table manners because he’ll copy your behaviour and mannerisms.
Two years and upwards
By now, you can expect your growing toddler to sit at table with the family and behave accordingly. He’ll begin to place two or more varieties of food groups onto the same fork or spoon and will be able to feed himself.
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