7 Reflexes needed for Good Infant Feeding
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
"Good mouth development is extremely important for the health and well being of a baby. The mouth is not only the route to good nutrition, but it is an area through which a child will gather information about the world and ultimately learn to express him - or herself through speech..." (Diane Bahr, 2010 p2 "Nobody ever told me (or my mother) that! Everything from bottles and breathing to healthy Speech Development"
Babies are born with numerous reflexes, some of which are key to survival. Did you know that if your baby displays reduced (hyporeflexia) responses to certain oral reflexes, their ability to feed well whether by breast or bottle may be affected.
Here are the 7 reflexes that all Full Term Infants should have at birth.
Many of these reflexes appear to disappear between 6-9 months (some earlier, some later), but really they have just been integrated in the baby's motor control system.
Rooting - Most of us know this one. A light touch to the cheek or lips will cause the baby's mouth to search out the touch. This helps the baby find the breast, bottle or finger for sucking/suckling.
Suckling - stimulated when a nipple, bottle or finger is inserted into the baby's mouth. The tongue will lift and cup around the nipple, bottle or finger, the lips will seal and you will feel the tongue move in a wave like pattern. This is used for both feeding and comfort.
Tongue thrust- when the tip of a baby's tongue is touched, the tongue will move forward. This is used to push out any objects that are too large for the baby's mouth at this point.
Swallowing - triggered when food or liquid is near the baby's throat. This reflex will slowly be controlled by the baby around 18 months. It is important for the future of functional swallowing of our food.
Bite - touching the back of a baby's gum line gently (where the molars will be) will stimulate a bite response. The bite is usually rhythmic in nature. Approximately 1 bite/second. This reflex will help a baby develop the chewing motion, co-ordination and strength needed for when soft solids are introduced.
Side to Side Tongue - If you touch either side of your baby's tongue, you should see the tongue move to the stimulated spot. This is an important function to place food in the correct position for chewing as well as to clear food from between the teeth and cheeks.
Gag- Most of us have had several experiences with the gag reflex. In infants, it is located at the back 3/4 of a baby's mouth. When stimulated, will see the baby open their mouth wide and tilt their head back. You may also see them lift their diaphragm. This protects babies from swallowing things that are too big for them.
Have fun exploring your own baby's mouth by turning mouth reflexes into play. Use a glove or freshly washed hand and lightly use your baby finger to explore the actions of your baby's tongue and jaw.
When done gently, most babies enjoy the sensory information they get with the light play. However, DO NOT play with the gag reflex. This should only be addressed if there is hyper sensitivity and then needs to be taught by a trained professional. Most babies won't enjoy that sort of play and I am sure they throw up enough without help from you.
If you would like to learn more, then I highly recommend reading Diane Bhar, MS, CCC-SLP, CIMI book "Nobody ever told me (or my mother) that! Everything from bottles and breathing to healthy speech development (sensory world 2010), available at her website agesandstages.net
A comprehensive, yet easily understood book written to help understand the "mystery" of good feeding for infants.
Disclaimer - Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.
Reference: 1.Diane Bahr MS. CCC-SLP, "Everything you need to know about a baby's mouth for good feeding, speech and mouth development.
2. "Infant Nutrition and Feeding", www.wicworks.fns.usda.gov/