Walk down the children’s aisle of almost any grocery store, and you will see an array of baby food pouches in nearly every food group. From yogurt to fruits and vegetables—even meats—feeding your child has never been easier for busy parents on the go. And parents are responding to this convenience: more and more parents seem to be relying on pureed foods in a pouch that children can suck and squeeze into their mouths, with no spoon required, no mess involved.
What’s not to love? As convenient and popular as baby food pouches are, they do have some potential caveats, particularly when it comes to their possible effects on oral motor development.
Babies don’t learn to eat overnight. It takes a lot of practice before they reach this important milestone, particularly from six to twelve months. Learning to eat is progressive, with one skill building on another as the muscles of the mouth gain strength and coordination. When parents rely too heavily on pouch foods during the time when babies should be learning to eat solids, children miss out on important opportunities to practice feeding skills, which may ultimately relate to future speech skills.
Children who mainly suck their food are missing out on spoon feeding. During spoon feeding, the lips, tongue, and jaw start to move separately from each other and the lips will draw together to remove food from the spoon. These movements are also necessary to produce sounds such as “m,” “p,” and “b.”
Sucking from a pouch also hinders proper tongue placement and encourages an immature swallow pattern. The tongue is only thrust forward and back rather than lifted up and back as with a mature swallow pattern. These movements are helpful in facilitating the speech sounds “t,” “l,” “n,” and “d.”
Additionally, children who predominately suck their food could be delayed in their ability to manipulate and chew textured solid food. Chewing helps to improve independent jaw movement and strength as well as tongue movement. These skills relate to clear speech when verbal abilities develop.
Another potential concern with overuse of baby food pouches is that children could miss out on advancing to new and different food textures. There are certain stages in babies’ growth and development when they are more tolerant to the sensory experience of accepting new food textures. If they skip those stages, it may be more difficult for them to accept new foods later.
Given these concerns, should baby food pouches be avoided all together? The bottom line comes down to moderation. Pouches every now and then are just fine and will do no harm. However, they should certainly not be the only or predominant way that a child receives his or her nutrition. Baby food pouches pose no threat as long as children are given plenty of opportunities to practice feeding skills and are exposed to a wide variety of tastes and textures.
- Pouches are a common and convenient way to feed infants.
- Overuse of pouches can limit oral motor development and affect speech development.
- Children benefit from exposure from different textures.
- Occasional use of pouches is best.