Developmental milestones and self-feeding behaviors in infants and toddlers

J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan;104(1 Suppl 1):s51-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2003.10.019.


Objectives: To identify ages at which gross motor developmental milestones and fine motor skills required for self-feeding were reported by primary caregivers and to relate these self-feeding skills to energy and nutrient intakes.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of households with infants/toddlers, ages 4 to 24 months.

Subjects/setting: Telephone survey using a national random sample of infants and toddlers (n=3,022).

Methods: Primary caregivers reported their children's food intake (one 24-hour recall), the ages when caregivers reported self-feeding skills were shown, and the number of teeth.

Statistical analyses performed: Children's reported ages for gross motor developmental milestones, self-feeding skills, and the number of erupted teeth were summarized. Using t tests, differences in energy and nutrient intake were determined by age groupings and by the absence or presence of each self-feeding skill.

Results: Self-feeding skills achieved in the first 2 years and details about age ranges at which developmental readiness to self-feed were evidenced are described. The ages at which children were reported to show gross motor developmental milestones and eruption of teeth occurred within expected age ranges. A majority of the children who were reported to show developmental readiness to self-feed at an earlier age (7 to 14 months) had higher intakes of energy and most nutrients than those who did not. By 15 to 18 months, most of the children were reported to show comparable self-feeding skills regardless of whether they self-fed earlier or later.

Applications/conclusions: Assuming a variety of nutritious foods are offered to infants and toddlers, caregivers may encourage self-feeding without concern for jeopardizing energy and nutrient adequacy. In the first year, the addition of foods that require chewing should reflect the number of erupted teeth.

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Tooth Eruption / physiology
  • Tooth, Deciduous