What are Pre-feeding Skills?
Pre-feeding skills are capabilities that your baby can practice in preparation for eating and drinking. These skills demonstrate baby’s readiness to start solids and drink from a cup safely. This blog will highlight a few pre-feeding exercises you can work on with your baby before their first bites and sips.
Pre-feeding Skill – Tongue Elevation: Tongue elevation is an essential movement for swallowing saliva, liquids and foods. The tongue must lift to the roof of the mouth to create suction and then swallow. This swallow pattern is considered a mature swallow (and is the way you and I swallow). As you read this, swallow your saliva. Did you feel your tongue touch your palate and create suction in your oral cavity? This is the swallow pattern we want our 6-month-old babies to do when starting solids. And we can work on this skill in the pre-feeding stage so that first foods will be swallowed and not spit out!
- Product Focus: The Loop Oral Development Tool has an opening in the center, which promotes tongue elevation when a baby is exploring the tool with their mouth. Have your baby explore this tool every day (5 minutes +) and watch their tongue slowly start to stretch and lengthen into the loop!
Pre-feeding Skill – Tongue Lateralization: Tongue lateralization occurs when the tongue moves from side-to-side inside the mouth. When starting solids, this happens as baby uses their tongue to push chewed food from the right side to the left side (tongue lateralization) and then swallows. This critical skill can be taught prior to the introduction of solids by chewing on safe objects that mimic a strip of food (such as the Stick Oral Development Tool).
- Product Focus: The Stick Development Tool was designed to replicate the size and shape of a strip of food for the baby-led weaning (BLW) method of feeding. All of the tools in this set are baby-led, which means baby can easily hold them independently… yet another pre-feeding skill!
Pre-feeding Skill – Lip Closure: Having the upper and lower lip close tightly enough to make an adequate seal (lip closure) supports the beginning stage of swallowing. Lip closure is a necessary skill for baby to successfully drink from an open cup and eat from a spoon. It also helps decrease drooling! You can teach this skill before your baby starts drinking from an open cup, straw cup or munching on flavorful strips of food.
- Product Focus: Placing breast milk or formula in the depression of the Smile Development Tool is a helpful way to strengthen lip closure. The sensory bumps help, too, as they provide tactile stimulation for proper lip closure (the bumps encourage baby to place both lips on the rim of the tool). The shape of this tool also encourages jaw stabilization and lip spreading movements, additional pre-feeding skills!
Pre-feeding Skill – Lip Rounding: Lip rounding is when a baby can protrude their lips and round them to form a circular shape. This movement is necessary for safe and successful straw drinking.
- Product Focus: The Tiny Pops is a popsicle mold designed specifically for the size of an infant's developing mouth. These adorable molds can be filled with breast milk or formula (for the pre-feeding phase) or thin purees, mashed foods, smoothies or pouches (for the starting solids phase). The frozen pop provides baby with thermal stimulation that encourages lip rounding. As baby explores the pop with their mouth you may observe other pre-feeding skills emerge, such as lip closure, tongue elevation and jaw stability. Score!
Difficulties with Pre-feeding Skills: If you believe that your baby is having difficulties with pre-feeding skills you may want to ask your pediatrician for a referral to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) that specializes in feeding. An SLP can diagnose (and treat) feeding difficulties before, during and after your baby starts solids. This treatment can help with motor or sensory needs, such as difficulties with munching, lip closure, tongue elevation and respiratory strength. Early intervention is key to help avoid consistent food refusal and picky eating tendencies.
Pre-feeding experiences can define a path for development and hone the skills needed for successful mealtime. ezpz’s pre-feeding products provide babies with a variety of mouth experiences that can help prepare them for starting solids. Which product is your baby’s favorite?
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 28 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating tendencies. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning feeding products.