Spanning the life period from birth to the age of 18 months, the oral stage is the first of the five Freudian psychosexual development stages:
- The oral;
- The anal;
- The phallic;
- The latent; and
- The genital.
Moreover, because it is the infant’s first human relationship – biological (nutritive) and psychological (emotional) – its duration depends upon the child-rearing mores of the mother’s society. Sociologically speaking, the duration of infantile nursing is determined normatively; in some societies it is common for a child to be nursed by their mother for several years but in others this period is much shorter.
Psychologically, Sigmund Freud proposed that if the nursing child’s appetite were thwarted during any libidinal development stage, the anxiety would persist into adulthood as a neurosis (functional mental disorder). Therefore, an infantile oral fixation (oral craving) would be manifest as an obsession with oral stimulation; yet, if weaned either too early or too late, the infant might fail to resolve the emotional conflicts of the oral, first stage of psychosexual development and they might develop a maladaptive oral fixation.
The infant who is neglected (insufficiently fed) or who is over-protected (over-fed) in the course of being nursed, might become an orally-fixated person. Said oral-stage fixation might have two effects:
- The neglected child might become a psychologically dependent adult continually seeking the oral stimulation denied in infancy, thereby becoming a manipulative person in fulfilling their needs, rather than maturing to independence; and
- The over-protected child might resist maturation and return to dependence upon others in fulfilling their needs.
Theoretically, oral-stage fixations are manifested as garrulousness (talkativeness), smoking, continual oral stimulus (eating, chewing objects), and alcoholism. Psychologically, the symptoms include a sarcastic, oral sadistic personality, nail biting, oral sexual practices (fellatio, cunnilingus, analingus, irrumatio), et cetera.
Since Freud’s presentation of the theory of psychosexual development in 1905, no evidence has confirmed that extended breast-feeding might lead to an oral-stage fixation, nor that it contributes to a person becoming maladjusted or to developing addictions (psychologic, physiologic). The paediatrician Jack Newman proposed that breast feeding a child until they choose to wean (c. 2-4 years of age) generally produces a more psychologically secure, and independent person. Contradicting the Freudian psychosexual development concept of oral-stage fixation, the Duration of Breast-feeding and the Incidence of Smoking (2003) study of 87 participants reported no causal relation between the breast-feeding period and whether or not a child matures into a person who smokes.