What is oral motor dysfunction?
As a parent, you're always watching for signs that your baby is developing normally. You may have heard about "oral motor dysfunction" and wonder what it means. Simply put, it refers to difficulties in the movement and coordination of the muscles in the mouth and throat that are necessary for feeding and speaking.
While some babies may experience these difficulties for a short period of time, others may have more persistent issues that require intervention.
Oral motor dysfunction in infants and newborns can manifest in a variety of ways, including:
Difficulty with breastfeeding or bottle feeding: Infants may have trouble latching, taking a long time to finish a feeding, or appearing to be in pain or distress during feeding.
Weak or uncoordinated sucking: Infants may have difficulty generating a strong suck, maintaining suction, or coordinating sucking, swallowing, and breathing.
Choking or gagging during feeding: Infants may cough, choke, or gag while feeding, which can indicate difficulty with coordinating their breathing and swallowing.
Excessive drooling: Infants may drool excessively, which can be a flag for concern beyond 6 months (or when it is not cyclical with teething).
Refusal of solid foods: As infants start to transition to solid foods, they may have difficulty with chewing and swallowing or show a lack of interest in solid foods altogether.
Delayed speech development: Oral motor dysfunction can affect the development of speech in infants and young children, leading to delays or difficulties in producing sounds and forming words.
It's important to note that some of these symptoms may be common in infants and not necessarily indicative of oral motor dysfunction. However, if you have concerns about your infant's feeding or speech development, it's important to speak with your pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding and swallowing disorders. They can help determine if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Treatment for oral motor dysfunction may include exercises to strengthen and help coordinate the muscles in the mouth and throat, as well as strategies to make feeding easier for your baby. A speech-language pathologist can work with you and your baby to develop a plan that's tailored to your specific needs.
In addition to seeking professional help, there are some things you can do at home to support your baby's oral motor development. These include:
Giving your baby plenty of opportunities to practice using their mouth and tongue such as eating foods that require chewing, lots of practice with cup and straw drinking starting at 6 months, or frequently playing with stick-shaped teethers. Make sure you are offering a variety of textures and flavors as your baby starts to eat solid foods, in order to promote exploration and oral mapping skills.
Remember, every baby develops at their own pace, and some may need extra support and intervention to help them along the way. By being attuned to your baby's needs and seeking help when necessary, you can help them thrive and develop the skills they need for a lifetime of healthy feeding and communication. Make sure to reach out to a skilled professional if you have concerns.
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