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Feeding Reflexes in Infants and How to Identify Them

Feeding Reflexes in Infants and How to Identify Them

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Reflexes are involuntary muscle reactions that occur as a response to touch, smell, taste, sound and visual stimuli. Reflexes occur in all individuals, from infants to adults.

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Babies have certain prominent reflexes right from the time of birth. For instance, if you touch a baby’s palm, the baby curls his/her fingers around yours. 

Some reflexes persist for years and disappear over time. Reflexes help infants react to certain stimuli that may prove beneficial in the future. Take for example feeding reflexes in babies. These help in the development of eating and swallowing processes that last a lifetime. 

By knowing these reactions, you can determine whether the baby is eating without any difficulties. Such actions also help you understand the food types and food textures suitable for your baby’s consumption. This is true not only during the early stages of infancy but also during the later stages of your baby’s development.

Listed here are some of the feeding reflexes made by infants.

1. Rooting Reflexes

When you touch your newborns face, cheek, chin, lips or the corner of the mouth, the baby reacts instantly. They turn their face towards the stimuli. This is followed by the infant opening his/her mouth and trying to locate the point of contact. 

For a baby, the reaction helps in seeking out the source of food. The ability to detect touch and then respond with the expectation of food is seen in newborns, right until the age of 4-6 months.

2. Suck and Swallowing Response

You may have observed that whenever you caress your baby’s mouth, the baby responds by opening his/her mouth followed by suckling. You will also observe the movement of his/her tongue, as if anticipating food and swallowing it.

The reflex helps in the movement of food in the mouth. Also, it causes the food to move towards the food pipe, aiding the process of ingestion.

3. Tongue thrust reflexes

The baby instantly extends its tongue whenever you touch its mouth. The reason for such an action is that the baby wants to reach out towards the food and taste it. The action is specially seen during breastfeeding or while feeding from the bottle.

4. Gag reflexes

Infants gag reflexes are functional right from the time of their birth. While swallowing, babies may gag and spill out food. This is not a major concern as babies often respond in this manner. If your baby has swallowed inappropriate amount of food, the food is propelled to the tongue and out of the mouth. 

This is a safety measure by the baby to avoid choking. Active gag reflexes are one of the reasons for not introducing complementary food before 6 months. After 6 months, the infant is more receptive towards semi-solid food as the sensitivity of the gag reflexes reduces over time.

Reflexes are important for growth and development. Some of the reflexes help in locating and identifying the source of nourishment. Some reactions help in the process of sucking and swallowing. These responses lay the groundwork for developing eating procedures for babies.

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