Food and speech

Eating and speaking – five tips on how and what children should eat and drink, as this will affect their speech development in the future.

Does this what your kid eats affect his speech? What can we do to support the child’s ability to speak from birth? There are a few simple tips and rules that can help not only improve your child’s speech but also ensure a healthy diet for our pupils.

My baby is 3 years old and doesn’t speak much! You got to help me! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from the parents worried about their kid’s ability to speak. Likewise, I can’t remember how many of them were surprised when I answered their request with a question: What does your toddler usually eats for breakfast or dinner?

This is a basic question in the questionnaire I created. It is necessary when I want to get a full diagnosis of the child’s speech and come up with the right conclusion. Yes, speech is food-dependent. Yes, speech is influenced in the youngest age by what we eat and how we eat. It is a fact. So, what should we do to know how to feed a child so it won’t cause any speaking problems later?

First of all, let’s make sure that the first feeding is natural. This is not about letting your kid eat just Organic food or the one you brought from your mums or nans garden. I am talking about breastfeeding from the day the child is born until at least six months of age. When a baby sucks his mother’s breast, he trains and coordinates three activities – breathing (with his mouth closed), swallowing and sucking.

While drinking, the child naturally exercises tongue, i.e. it becomes more flexible, automatically rises to the top of the alveolar margin. In other words, at this moment the child exercises straightening the tongue, i.e. stretching it, lifting the tip of the tongue upwards, which later is very useful in pronouncing many sounds. When a baby drinks from a bottle, i.e. when he sucks (even the best quality pacifier), the tongue does not work, but rests flat on the bottom of the mouth, and thus is less fit than if it was naturally exercising while sucking the breast. Besides this, during natural breastfeeding, the cheeks, lips and jaw also work. I also mentioned the breathing. Baby does it naturally through the nose, with mouth closed, because the palate uvula closes the passage to the respiratory tract. This is an important exercise for the child because this type of breathing allows the development of the maxillary sinuses. I addition to this it also affects the development of the jaw and the entire face of the child. 

 Secondly, the consistency of the meal is very important. At first, most children suck on their mother’s breasts. However, when about 5-6 months of age the first teeth start to appear and the baby can sit more and more efficiently and hold this position while breastfeeding, it is necessary to slowly move on to more solid meals. Many parents consider all commercially available baby food to be solid. They are also important, necessary and nutritious, but… they are not the only ones. When thinking about the child’s speech, or more precisely about the willingness to start the whole speech apparatus – lips, jaws, dental arches (then teeth), tongue, cheeks, soft palate, it is worth thinking about making meals more challenging, not just a “slurry”. By “bigger challenge” I mean meals containing lumps, pieces, which are chopped rather than blended, as well as those that can be held in the hand and chewed, such as bread crust, vegetables or fruits. Anything will be better than a runny consistency. It’s natural and healthy training for mouth and tongue. While chewing and biting child exercises a lot of muscles that are important for the later articulation.

 You should also remember that food with which you need to do something with – bite, chew, “check with the tongue” is also much more interesting for the toddlers (especially at the age up to the first year of life). Right then we should provide them with various nutritional encouragements and not just serve them blended meals.  I recommend Małgorzata Jackowska’s article ‘Why should all infants eat lumps and pieces?’, in which the author focuses even more on the first meals of the child. In her other articles, she also explains the risky possibilities of changing the meal consistency.

Thirdly, give the child a chance to pick the food but under our supervision. Eating is supposed to be a great pleasure, not a sad obligation. I think I don’t need to introduce you to BLW (baby-led weaning) diet by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, which is an intuitive and safe way to allow your kids to try, not necessarily eat various products. Of course, it is us, parents, who take care of what products to put in the child’s hand or on the table, but they have the right to decide what to put in their mouth. The baby can learn the shape, smell and taste of various products, but most of all, he can bite, and chew them, which will contribute training multiple muscles and joints (including lip muscles, tongue, temporomandibular joint and others). What’s more, the rule that a child eats with us at the table and uses our products may also affect our diet. It is unlikely that we will serve a grease dripping meal knowing that our kid is going to share it with us.

Fourthly, we should intentionally use specific food for speech therapy exercises. It is a myth that for speech therapy only expensive and teaching aid is needed. Everything you need is imagination. Use products that your kid likes the most and bamm, your very own ‘teaching aid set’ is ready. Eating corn puffs, pulling out spaghetti not using hands etc. A kid works on the circular muscle of the mouth, the muscles of the tongue, but also focuses on the task entrusted to him, as long as he exercises with his favourite product. Even more ideas for food exercises can be found in my article ‘Tasty and logopedic, i.e. Logopedia on the plate’.

Fifthly, not only food but also what we drink is as important. I will skip writing about the fact that it is better to give your child water or natural juices to drink. Best prepared by yourself at home. Not ready-made juice concentrate or any other beverages that contain lots of sugar. It’s not about the product itself, but about the way of serving it. As with the transition from breastfeeding to eating solids, the transition from breastfeeding to drinking from a cup is the same. Yes, from the cup, not the bottle. If the child can already maintain a sitting position, try to give him a cup of a size adapted to the toddler, the usual one. The cup should not have two hands, a lid or various sippy cups. While drinking from a cup, the child actively engages the lips, tongue, cheeks and jaw in this activity. This is important as it affects both the coordination of drinking and breathing. Besides, drinking from the cup will prevent the occurrence of malocclusion in the child at a later age. If we give the child something to drink, let him drink and not try to bite off. Such dubious “entertainments” are provided to children who drink from cups or bottles equipped with non-drip caps. Of course, the occasional use of such a cup with a lock, e.g. on a walk or in a car, is not a bad thing, but cannot get into the habit of serving a drink this way. When a child drinks from a non-drip cup every day, it may contribute to malocclusion, strengthening the sucking reflex, lowering lip tension, “lazy” tongue, and further to many speech defects or even delayed speech development.

If you are afraid of a puddle underneath the chair when your child drinks from an open cup, let him use the straw. While using the straw, the child tightens the lips on it, so the circular muscles of the mouth are practised again and a specific vacuum is created in the mouth, which forces the tongue to work – withdrawal, tension.

Sixthly, although there were supposed to be five indications, let’s not disturb the child when he eats or drinks. It would seem that this principle is the most obvious of the above. But believe me, from thousands of conversations I had with parents that it is not one of these. Very often we hurry our kid during the meal, Come on, eat faster because we got to go to kindergarten! What are you waiting for’. Do I have to finish it for you? If you don’t eat an entire dinner, you won’t go for a walk, watch a cartoon, etc., etc., etc. But a meal is supposed to be a pleasure, isn’t it? Do we like to eat in a hurry or, what’s worse, if someone hurries us up when we eat? I don’t know about you, but I hate it. This is why in this additional tip I recommend you to give a child as much time to consume their meal as it takes. And for sure, we should not stress them during the meal that there is a chance they might miss out on an upcoming episode of Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol.

In conclusion, we always have to remember how important natural feeding is. We got to remember about the of the variety of products served to our child. Let us make sure that month by month we swap ready-made meals to bread crust, veggies or anything, that require biting! Let your kid play with food and remember to allow him to drink from a regular cup. Is it difficult to apply all these changes?  If we want to implement it right away, it certainly is. But… if we systematically change our approach to nutrition and serving meals to the child, we will surely succeed in doing. We will also take care of the child’s speech at the same time.  Good luck trying! Fingers crossed, You can do it!