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For Healthcare Professional use

Toddler Factsheet 3.5

DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES IN
INFANT AND TODDLER FEEDING
www.infantandtoddlerforum.org

LEARNING POINTS
1 Four key areas in the development of feeding Taste, texture and food preferences develop as
4 
are the acquisition of: children learn to accept or reject certain food
· skills related to feeding and eating tastes and textures
· specific feeding skills
· taste, texture and food preferences Appetite regulation begins from birth but
5 
· appetite regulation becomes more effective as the child learns to
signal hunger and satiety
General skills include facial expressions, holding
2 
and mouthing, imitating others’ behaviour and
There is considerable variation in the ages at
6 
relating to others
which infants and toddlers achieve new feeding
skills due to:
Specific feeding skills include sucking, swallowing,
3  · differences in the rate of their physical and
chewing, biting, spoon-feeding and drinking from mental development
a cup · interaction with the environment
· how often these skills are promoted by
the parent

02 .

2 years and above 03 . The factsheet is divided into four sections. During the early years a toddler will achieve a new skill. determined by child’s relationship with food. achieve many motor skills is dependent on how often they are promoted by the parent and Feeding infants and toddlers can be an intense performed by the child. texture and food preferences • appetite regulation Key The developmental stages are illustrated using the colour coding key below. his or her innate abilities and interaction with the introduction of complementary foods and the the environment.6 months . and have long-term consequences. during milk-feeding. transition to family foods. and development. Birth 1 month 3 months 6 months 12 months 2 years . They also want to know if it is ‘normal’ for their used to reassure parents about their child’s child to be reluctant to accept certain tastes.12 months . dealing with the development of: • skills related to feeding and eating • specific feeding skills • taste.3 months .1 month . However. the age at which infants which food textures they can cope with at what ages. can be critical for his or her health and development. This factsheet aims to provide health and childcare professionals with an evidence-based description of the developmental stages observed around food and feeding in infants and young children. This means that there and emotional (positive and negative) experience is variation in the ages at which an infant or for both parent and child.DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES IN INFANT AND TODDLER FEEDING Parents often ask health professionals when their child can be expected to attain feeding and drinking Developmental milestones can be helpful related skills and acquire preferences for particular markers of typical child development and foods.

2. At first these words are not generalised. Sitting without support About one-third of infants can sit alone without support between the ages of four to six months.18 months Brings hand to mouth and opens Holds onto months Says first words. For example. Recognising the body language. mouth in preparation to suck objects and puts Begins to sit with might say word for known food them into the some support mouth and then unaided 12 months Recognises food by sight. but most toddlers will begin to point by 14 months to show others what they want6.Skills related to feeding and eating There are a number of general motor skills and behavioural changes which. Saying first words Some infants say their first word at nine months. mouths and shows visual support Visually groups food into categories Holds objects exploration of objects Holding and mouthing From three months an infant can use both tongue and mouth to explore toys and by four months hold. Pointing at objects This can occur in infants as young as nine months. Categorising objects by sight Grouping foods into visual categories begins from about nine months of age7. and from this age they may point at foods that they know or like.5. facial expressions and physical behaviour of infants and toddlers can greatly assist parents and carers in feeding them. toddlers begin saying ‘no’. MOTOR DEVELOPMENT AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT OF FEEDING SKILLS Birth 3 months 4 . but context-specific.11 9 . and most will have done so by eighteen months8. and by nine to eleven months almost all infants (97 per cent) can do this4. 04 . smell and taste Communicates using words to ask for or name foods that they 9 months might want Pincer grasp with finger and thumb 4 months Sits without 12 months and beyond 2 months Holds. context specific. as children progress into their second year and move from local to global processing they begin to understand that a new. different-shaped biscuit might taste like a biscuit that they have had before. ‘more’ or naming a food that they want at mealtimes from around 12 months. while not specific to feeding. play an important part in the development of an infant’s eating habits and ability to eat food and drink. Objects cannot be picked up with a thumb and finger (pincer grasp) until about nine months of age3. mouth and look carefully at objects1.

such imitation is still poor. and it takes many repetitions for infants to achieve good mimicry. Interaction with others Birth 4 months Prefers to look at faces Watches and responds appropriately to a sequence of events in interactions with others Infants are interested in faces from birth.Facial expression Birth 3 . 05 . However. even at six months of age3. it is not until seven months that infants interpret emotional cues and prefer to look at a smiling rather than a frowning face11.17. 14-month old toddlers imitate eating behaviour and will try a new food if an adult tries it first.2 years 2 years Imitates adult facial expression Some imitation of movements Shows deferred imitation of action Imitates other toddlers’ behaviour Opens mouth in response to adult and facial expression which is not context specific open mouth Newborn infants can show basic imitation of face and mouth movements from birth14.6 months 6 months . Sweet foods do not elicit this adverse response9. From soon after birth. Good imitation of adult behaviour develops through the second year of life15. and by the age of four months will watch and understand turn-taking interactions with others13.5 months 7 months 10 months Indicates Tells the difference between others’ Prefers a smile to a frown Uses facial likes and expressions of pleasure and disgust expressions dislikes (of others) as a cue to change behaviour Newborn infants can signal their taste preference by facial expression.18. If mealtimes are stressful they can pick up on this at an early age. The ability to recognise different adult facial expressions is achieved by some infants between three and five months10. However. and it is not until around ten months of age that most infants change their behaviour in response to different adult facial expressions12. They will grimace in response to tastes they dislike. Imitation of Others Birth 4 . such as a bitter taste. they show motor movements in response to other peoples’ actions and these gradually become more like the movement that they are trying to copy. They become attuned to the style of feeding that they have experienced. Toddlers start imitating other toddlers from around 24 months and children of three to four years of age will modify their food choices to be like those of other children with whom they are eating16.

it can still be and depends on the age at which lumpy solid foods seen in infants of six months and older when they are are introduced. age.6 month introductory period. However. young children also develop skills that are specific to feeding and eating.4 years Opens mouth to suck fist 7 . infant’s top lip1.12 months Sucking observed Can show open mouth for spoon at an early months Can bite into harder in the womb age so this response is present before onset Eruption of foods when teeth Swallowing of complementary feeding at 4 . and spoon-feeding before this age may require who find touch in the mouth uncomfortable may gag the parent to wipe the food from the spoon onto the and then vomit as an aversive response to lumpy foods23. As the infant gets to side tongue movements to process them. Foods that are more solid. This behaviour is more likely A newborn infant can move the tongue up and down to happen if the infant is hungry20. but needs more practice with it in order to can adapt their sucking response to adjust to different develop tongue control. Clearing spoon with top lip Lumpy solid foods are usually introduced between This usually happens from around seven months of around five and 15 months1. and is seen less of age. This does not mean the infant dislikes small and tongue movement therefore limited. breathing and swallowing If pureed or smooth foods are introduced between develops in infants over the first few days of life19. within the mouth. and up and down movements increase that prevents the ingestion of pieces of food that are as sucking pads disappear and there is more space in too large to be comfortably swallowed20. at around six months21. when the infant is learning to control the tongue. many by eight months.6 months front teeth have erupted observed in the womb 2 months 6 . but still observed in most adults is observed from birth 2 years Moves tongue in and out. These are related to certain physiological adaptations that allow the child to cope with the changes of diet that occur through infancy. types of milk flow.specific feeding skills While going through the general developmental stages described previously. During sucking the tongue moves backwards The gag reflex in newborn infants is a protective reflex and forwards. four and six months. the introduction of complementary foods and the transition to family foods. milk from the breast or the bottle19. and in and out of the mouth. given lumpy solid foods21. Highly sensitive children. 77 per cent of infants clear the spoon The gag response does not disappear completely. with lumps are best started early to promote good oral motor in puree or mash. 06 . complementary food should not be introduced until the 4 . need either up and down or side function.12 months especially if hungry 6 months Can close the lips to clear the spoon Can cope with most textures offered but chewing not fully mature The gag response to food Gag response declines as mouth becomes and objects in the mouth more used to the feel of food.12 8 . Can move food from side to side of the Can cope with most foods offered as and up and down mouth (from introduction of lumpy solids) part of a family meal Sucking and swallowing Tongue control Sucking and swallowing are observed in fetuses in the Moving food appropriately to the back of the mouth womb as early as 14 . when the progression can be made to foods that require more complex oral motor processing. Oral motor development (function of the lips. and 97 per cent by 24 months5. Lumpy foods the oral cavity. from an earlier age. However. The smooth can be observed from as early as two months of age1.g. side movement is triggered by food in the mouth. These motor skills are mapped out to show when each is likely to develop. e. The gag reflex in response Opening mouth in response to spoon to solid textured foods gradually declines between This response is usually seen in infants from four months the ages of six to twelve months. Newborn infants can open their mouth in Tongue movement readiness to suck their fist. adults gag in response to oral medication. but the oral cavity is too small for anything other than The gag reflex liquid19. co-ordination of sucking. jaws and teeth) Before birth 2 weeks . some tongue protrusion occurs Newborn infants can only cope initially with sucking which can look as if the infant is pushing the food out liquids because the space within the mouth is very of the mouth.14 months Can chew softer lumps and keep Can move food from a spoon to the back most food in the mouth of the mouth Birth 12 months .9 months 6 . Side to more used to foods and other textures in the mouth. although it has been reported in infants as young often in infants who have begun to eat lumpy foods as two weeks and as old as nine months of age1.15 weeks gestation. although these skills might be in place. They the food.22. the gag reflex usually declines.

This early chewing can develop months).18 months5. and one year21. Infants and toddlers have smaller stomachs breast milk at around six months of age. From around six months. which are involved in the digestion and of minerals and salts is limited in early infancy.11 months 8 months 8 months . In than adults and need smaller portions of food. Self Feeding 4 . The European guidelines Breast milk contains numerous protective factors that for the introduction of solid/complementary help to defend infants from the effects of bacteria and foods is between four and six months28. but absorption of food and the excretion of waste products adequately developed by four and six months to cope in the urine. before the end of the first year. jaw movement. and during early approximately 80 per cent of infants had been life mother’s milk can help combat some childhood given their first foods by the age of five months29. chewing effectively by twelve months of age and able at two years to cope with most foods which are offered to them as part of a family meal25.Chewing foods Biting food Chewing requires a combination of lip. The infant’s own carried out in the UK in 2011 reported that immune system develops after birth. proteins and fats26.5 Chewing efficiency develops in response to different Infants can bite hard textured foods. Infants can however sip begin to try to feed themselves from a spoon without from a closed cup with help from a carer from a much spilling between eight months and two years.2 years 11 months . Digestion and absorption The gut enzymes needed to digest solid foods develop in infancy. and most infants can from the age of around eight months1. such as a piece of raw apple.2 years Starts to hold food and bring food Begins to try to feed from spoon Begins to drink from closed cup Begins to drink from open cup to the mouth without spilling from eight months (by 11 months. However. with complementary foods which contain higher levels of minerals and salt27. after the but may erupt earlier or later. The side teeth (molars) do not usually appear from the teeth within them. infections26.1 and 1. 07 . They will themselves by eleven months5. cope with lumpy textured foods between six months biting into hard food. tongue and The first tooth usually appears at around six months. infants can co-ordinate usually present by the age of three years. sucking. Most earlier age. textured foods being offered. such as a cracker. biting. most infants can (by 19 months. and up are usually the lower front teeth (incisors . See Factsheet 4. Few infants can drink from an open cup infants can feed themselves from a spoon quite well at until they are over 19 months of age. Young infants The Department of Health recommends that fed on non-milk foods can therefore digest these infants should first be given foods other than foods. followed by the upper front teeth (eight to 12 before the teeth have erupted as the gums are hard months).at six to ten and down munching24. Infants who are introduced to these only begins when both upper and lower front teeth more solid textured foods at around six months will be (incisors) have erupted. developed countries it is safe to introduce See Factsheets 1. GENERAL PHYSIOLOGY The general and specific feeding skills described above Renal (kidney) function occur together with the development of the gut The ability of the kidneys to excrete large amounts and kidneys.3 complementary foods by the age of six months but Defence (immune) system not before four months. most infants can drink from a closed cup) drink from an open cup) 15 months Most infants can feed themselves with a spoon Holding food Drinking from cups Most infants can feed themselves with food held in Most infants can sip liquids from a closed cup by their hands by the age of eight months5. A survey other harmful substances in the diet. well before they are required to digest Introduction of complementary foods non-milk starch. The first teeth all of their mouth movements. about 15 . All milk (or first) teeth are introduction of lumpy solids.

new tastes if these are given earlier in the period of Children with neophobic parents are more likely to be introduction of complementary foods37.39. See Factsheet 2. These preferences (and aversions) can often persist into adolescence and beyond30. This rejection of new foods is a normal response the more likely they are to accept the food35. Her milk can Disgust and rejection be flavoured by the food she eats.1 Neophobic stage – the fear of new foods It is relatively easy to introduce new foods to infants Learned taste acceptance before the age of one year. neophobic themselves43. and disliked foods that are sensitive to the taste of bitter foods and drinks34. such as vegetables. Disliked foods might Some infants. They which peaks at about the age of 20 months. For some children the disgust-response to disliked foods Inherited factors starts from around 14 months40. toddlers and adults are particularly be rejected on sight. Taste and food preferences are subject to a number of influences described below: Acceptance and rejection Before birth Birth . but also develop taste. See Factsheet 2. all other taste preferences are learned through experience31. the earlier infants are offered often refuse to eat foods that they accepted before41. Breast feeding The foods eaten by a breast-feeding mother can influence the infant’s taste preferences at the introduction of complementary foods32. They are born with a preference for sweet tastes. to a healthy.6 months 14 months Some infants will inherit a strong dislike Some strong taste preferences learned from the taste Rejection of food begins of bitter tastes and certain food textures of milk feed Some will be more neophobic than others and reject more foods when older 20 months . even this sweet taste preference is modified by subsequent experience of food and drinks. However.3 08 .38.Taste. recognise by sight which foods they do not like. after this. e. food with a specific strong taste.8 years All infants are born with a sweet taste 4 . However. texture and food preferences that have a significant impact on the types of foods they are willing to eat. garlic. before are also more likely to accept other new foods and gradually diminishing by the age of about eight years42. toddlers Infant taste preferences are learned through are often very reluctant to accept new foods and experience. However. By the end of the first year infants have learned to this does not happen with all foods and all tastes33. varied diet have a bitter aftertaste. touching or hidden under liked foods may lead to all of Unfortunately many vegetables that contribute the meal being rejected.36.g. Learned preferences before birth Taste preferences can be acquired by an infant from his or her pregnant mother via the amniotic fluid which has been flavoured by the foods she has eaten32. texture and food preferences Growing infants and young children not only adapt physically and mentally to the challenges of eating.6 months Neophobic response preference Introduction of complementary foods 2 years Birth Taste preferences Preferences now Preference for strong tastes such as garlic rapidly learned and predict food and spices learned from exposure to easier acceptance of preferences amniotic fluid new foods throughout life Preference for energy dense sweet and It is better to fat foods (continues through childhood) introduce a wide range of tastes in this period Inborn preferences Infants have a preference for energy-rich foods. However.

sounds. which peaks at about until late in the first year. are more likely to refuse new foods49. Eating Preferences. but also reject inherited tendency to avoid certain foods. SMELLS AND TASTES Birth 9 months 14 . Some Late introduction of lumpy solid foods is also related toddlers at this age will also show a disgust and to poorer acceptance of fruit and vegetables in later contamination response. At four months infants can recognise food by taste and smell and quickly learn to accept a variety of new foods offered to them53. such as fish. meat and vegetables48. those foods are more likely 20 months.6 months 8 months Can cope with pureed and mashed food Can cope with mash with harder lumpy solids Begins to chew (most can 6 months chew without gagging onwards at 12 months) Introduction of lumpy solids Mash with soft lumps Bite and dissolve Soft chew Complementary foods with a soft lumpy texture should be introduced as soon as possible at around six Sensory sensitivity and neophobia months of age. Some children and adults show an to eat food that they do not like. They not only refuse childhood46.14 months 3 years Points to food they Imitates age-mate’s eating know they like behaviour 4 years The range of foods in a young 4 months child’s diet predicts late child and Learns to like and accept adult dietary range complementary foods quite quickly and with variety Newborn infants recognise faces50. The variety of foods accepted by an infant gradually increases until around two years and then remains fairly constant until around eight years42. Toddlers who are sensory-sensitive feeding problems during his or her second year44.45. The range of foods in a young child’s diet predicts their food choices and preferences in adulthood55.Texture progression 4 . is stronger in some toddlers than to be refused and the infant is more likely to have others. If lumpy solid foods are not introduced The neophobic stage. Those who tend to reject foods because of their texture are more likely to be sensory sensitive. food that has been touched by the disliked food40.1 because of their texture. At 14 months they will imitate the eating behaviour of adults54. Soon after birth infants will rapidly recognise the tastes and smells of milks51 and in later infancy foods which they have previously experienced52.16 months Shows preference Can begin to understand that similar looking foods Imitates adult’s eating for known tastes might taste the same preferences and smells 9 .47. 09 . smells and known tastes from birth. These foods may be rejected See Factsheet 2.

but often from around four months). the infant will open his or her mouth in response to food and move toward the spoon. • blocking the mouth with the hand • crying Milk-fed infants can show that they have had enough by: Older infants will: • stopping sucking • throw food • spitting out the nipple or teat and turning their head • signal ‘no’ in response to unwanted food given away to them • slowing down feeding pace Toddlers may try to: Complementary fed infants can show that they have • distract their parent had enough by: • become distracted • move away from the meal table. and the ability to signal to whoever is controlling the mealtime.the start of self-feeding5. they will become excited when they see it prepared and try to take food that others are eating.40. and fist sucking between feeds. It depends on innate and acquired processes. Infants of around four months of age show renewed night waking. As infants get older and more used to food. When complementary foods are introduced (ideally not later than six months. Similarly from about four months the infant can grasp food and start to put food from the hand into the mouth . Signalling hunger 10Birth 4 months 9 months 12 months Roots and turns in search of nipple Opens mouth for food Clear interest in feeding self Says the word for food they want Sucks fist Moves head towards spoon with Points to food mouth open Watches food Reaches for food The newborn infant can turn the head. root for the nipple and cry when hungry.2 • spitting food out • holding food in the mouth 10 . including the capacity to respond to physiological signals of energy (calorie) intake and demand.APPETITE REGULATION The ability to regulate food intake in response to nutritional need is a vital part of feeding and eating. SignalLING satiety and dislike Birth 4 months 12 months Cries and turns head Turns away Throws food away from nipple from spoon Signals or says Sucks slowly and stops Shows disgust/ ‘no’ to unwanted/ sucking gags at disliked disliked food Pushes nipple from food Distracted by toys mouth during mealtimes Facial expression 14 months Moves away from meal or meal table Infants can signal to parents that they no longer want • showing a disgust facial response food or milk.57.58 • turning head away from the spoon • clenching mouth shut See Factsheet 2. which mothers interpreted as hunger56. when previously they had slept through the night.

6 years) will respond to controlled largely by the infant. others’ eating behaviour. for some fussier Good regulation children repeated prompts or pressure to eat can From the age of four to six months infants can adjust lead to a reduction in food intake. But if ‘treat’ foods are restricted then than those whose parents use non-responsive feeding pre-school children will eat more of these foods when practices and do not respond to infant signals of satiety61. mealtimes become their energy intake when complementary foods are uncomfortable for the child63. but this is only true of children who like to copy is only partial but as the infant gets older it improves. However.3 11 . See Factsheet 3. the Children from two years old will eat more food if given infant will be more likely to have a lower BMI as a toddler larger portions64.Regulation OF APPETITE Birth 2 months 14 months 24 months Can reject a milk feed Good regulation of intake according Imitates adult eating Imitates other children Partial regulation of calorie intake to internal cues Eats more in response to portion size 4 . who can regulate his or her prompts to eat more by finishing what is on their energy intake from soon after birth59.6 months Shows regulation of intake of breast 36 months milk and complementary foods Responds to prompts to overeat - but only in some children Responds to stressful mealtime interactions by refusing food Reduces amount eaten when pressured Shows preference for and rejection of foods Changes food preferences to be like age-mates Shows better regulation with responsive feeding Shows preference for restricted/ witheld foods Partial regulation Prompting The amount of milk the infant takes from the breast is Some young children (3 . At first this regulation plate. they become available65. It can lead to overeating in an overweight child62. offered to ensure they do not take in more food and milk than they need60. If parents follow their infant’s hunger Portion size and satiety cues whilst giving complementary foods.

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