Did you know that there is a right and wrong way to spoon feed? The wrong way involves lifting your hand upward as you remove the spoon from the child’s mouth. This method scrapes the spoon against the teeth, gums, and/or upper lip to get food off of the spoon.
Scraping is not the normal, natural way to feed. And specifically for children with oral motor delays, it’s a missed opportunity, as it doesn’t allow the lips to do their job and close around the spoon. It can also force the child’s head back as they try to “chase” the spoon upward. You can see this happening in the image above and also in the beginning of the video below. .
To spoon feed the right way: Place the spoon on top of tongue and hold it there until the child closes his/her lips. Then remove the spoon straight back out of the mouth (not at an angle). The chin should stay straight and not tilt upward. As mom correctly notes in the video, this allows the child to eat, instead of you feeding. In the last spoonful in the video, you can really see her lips working!
Children should instinctually close their lips, but if they don’t, there are a few things you can do to assist this oral motor skill:
1. Give it time - you may have to keep the spoon there and wait a moment for lip closure.
2. You can also gently press down on the tongue a bit to stimulate the lips to close.
4. You might need to stretch the lips beforehand to assist lip closure.
There are many different techniques you can try to stretch the lips:
• Gently stretch the upper lip down with your finger pad (or with your whole finger for more input). Repeat on the lower lip, gently stretching it upwards. You can also do this with a Y-Chew.
• Gently pinch the philtrum (the skin between the nose and upper lip) and stretch down. Repeat on the skin just below the middle of the lower lip, gently stretching up.
• Touch your pointer finger and thumb together. Place them just under the nose and then stretch the fingers away from each other along the lip line. Repeat the same movement just under the lower lip.
• Stand behind the child and place your pointer finger above the upper lip and your middle finger below the lower lip. Close your fingers like a scissor to close the lips.
Your therapist can guide you through these. Keep in mind that stretching the lips before the child eats may not be enough. Observe how they eat and if they lose closure, you can do some stretching again.
Also, be sure not to load the spoon up with too much food. No shoveling! Small, manageable bites are best. Too much food can be overwhelming and difficult to orally manage. For a list of favorite feeding therapy spoons, click here.
Usually when I see or hear of parents feeding the wrong way, it’s either because they don’t know about the proper way, or they’re in a hurry. So now that you’re experts on the right way, be sure to take your time during mealtimes. It takes longer, but there will be less food loss, less drooling, and much more oral motor benefit in letting the lips get their workout.
Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP