When we think about feeding and speech development, at first glance, the two may not seem interconnected. Sure, we speak and eat with our mouths, but how does that affect how children learn to talk later in life? Speech is a secondary function that uses the same anatomic structures used for feeding and respiration. In feeding, children gain practice with strengthening and coordinating the muscles that will be used for speech. There are many ways in which early muscle development helps lead to better speech development. For instance, bottle and breast feeding requires children to utilize a variety of muscles and structures including the jaw, tongue, lips which are the primary structures and muscles used for speech production. Another example would be if your child is having difficulties progressing through food stages, such as an inability to transition from purees to chewable textures at an appropriate age. This can lead to rejection of solid foods when they are introduced late, subsequently delaying speech sound development due to jaw weakness from not practicing age appropriate chewing patterns. These muscle groups that are used for eating, help develop the foundation for appropriate speech patterns needed to create intelligible speech production so your child can express themselves without becoming frustrated when they are not understood.
Parent’s should also be cautious about extended bottle or breast feeding as the only method of nutrition. A child should be proficient at holding an open cup and drinking from it (with some spillage) by 12-months of age. Knowing that a child can make this developmental achievement may inspire you to practice open cup drinking to help your child slowly wean off a bottle. Weaning from bottle to open cup also helps prevent tooth decay, as recommended by the American Dental Association. Also, transitioning from a bottle to a cup by your child’s first birthday can help decrease any picky drinking habits like sleeping with a bottle at night, which increases the risk for cavities. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends stopping the pacifier at around six months in order to decrease the risk of ear infections and keep your child healthy. Inappropriate use of pacifiers and bottle feedings can also lead to a lack of muscle development in the back of the mouth and palate area, where more resonant/nasal sounds such as “ng” (words such as going, sing, etc.) and /m/ sounds are created. One study found that longer durations can indicate a greater risk of speech disorders. Simultaneously, not enough muscle growth can affect how the oral area develops (Barbosa et al., 2009).
Something else to look for is if you have an older child that refuses to eat foods with certain textures, has trouble breathing while eating or drinking, or refuses to eat or drink entirely. These symptoms, among others can be signs of a potential feeding or swallowing disorder. This is extremely serious, as the child can be at risk for poor nutrition, food and liquid entering the airway causing aspiration, and possible lung infections. Feeding disorders can be caused by a host of other things, such as acid reflux, cleft palate, muscle weakness, etc. It is important to have this checked out as soon as possible if you think your child has a feeding disorder. Tackling this obstacle early can help your child back onto the right path with fewer issues in the future as opposed to waiting for the issue to disappear over time. Speech development is heavily interconnected with other parts of the oral structure and feeding process, and ensuring that your child is feeding properly is one of the most essential parts of their development now and later in life when they are adults.
If you feel your child has difficulty feeding, it is important that you seek guidance from a feeding specialist (a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who has advanced training).
Barbosa, C., Vasquez, S., Parada, M. A., Gonzalez, J. C., Jackson, C., Yanez, N. D., . . . Fitzpatrick, A. L. (2009). The relationship of bottle feeding and other sucking behaviors with speech disorder in Patagonian preschoolers. BMC Pediatrics, 9(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2431-9-66
Child Speech and Language. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/ChildSandL/
Cichero, J., & 24, J. (2019, April 02). How feeding development affects speech development: Bub Hub. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from https://www.bubhub.com.au/hubbub-blog/how-feeding-development-affects-speech-development/
Written by Holly M Petersen