It's not like you hate seeing it — your newborn baby is an amazing little person with all kinds of tricks and surprises — but eventually you might start wondering why your baby is sticking their tongue out all the time. There it is when she's hungry, and again when she's finished eating. Sometimes she just rests it between her lips like it's a totally normal thing to do. Luckily, it is a normal thing for her to do, and eventually she'll tuck it into her mouth where it belongs after she's reached a few milestones. But what's happening right now?
Baby’s Tongue Out Prevents Them From Choking
It turns out, tongue thrusting is a primitive reflex in newborns that is associated with feeding. You might find that when you touch your baby's lips, out comes her tongue in anticipation of feeding time, but not once solid foods are on the menu. In fact, the presence of this reflex indicates an unreadiness for solid food. Baby’s tongue actually prevents her from choking on substances her body isn’t ready to handle.
"It’s their own body saying, 'I’m not ready for this, I still need my breast milk or formula.' With time it should go away and baby will happily take food from a spoon," says Jean Moorjani, M.D., board-certified pediatrician at Orlando's Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, in an interview with Romper.
“When beginning spoon feeding, it is very common for a baby to stick out their tongue and push the food out as they are learning how to retract their tongue to allow the spoon in their mouth,” adds Meghan B. Amerson, certified speech-language pathologist and outpatient speech-language pathology supervisor at Children's of Alabama, in an interview with Romper.
Babies Sticking Their Tongue Out Is A Way To Play With You
Another possibility is that your baby is imitating you, doing her best impression of the silly faces you make at her. In studies published in the 1970s in the journal Science, infants as young as 2 and 3 weeks old mimicked researchers when they protruded their tongue, which was cited in a followup study in 2009. As your baby grows older, BabySparks noted that their attempts at mimicry will be very recognizable, but even at a few days or weeks old, their brain is already making connections that are helped along by imitation.
"It’s surprising, but it’s their first way of playing with their parents," says Moorjani. "It’s the baby’s first way to imitate. It’s so formative in a baby’s brain and they have an expected reaction. It’s a game of prediction and reliability."
“Typically, babies begin to imitate sticking their tongue out around 6 to 8 months of age,” says Ashley Heinemann, certified speech-language pathologist at Children’s of Alabama, in an interview with Romper. “Depending on the reaction they receive, the baby will repeat the behavior. It is totally normal to engage in motor imitative play with your baby, which teaches turn-taking.”
As your baby's oral strength grows, she should stop sticking her tongue out during spoon feeding sessions. If it’s still going on, or your baby’s tongue never seems to find its way back inside the mouth, it’s worth bringing up with your pediatrician.
When To Call Your Doctor About Your Baby’s Tongue Sticking Out
“Notify your child's doctor if they leave their tongue protruded at rest most of the time,” says Amerson. “Genetic differences, like Down Syndrome or Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, may cause tongue protrusion at rest, which can be a sign of low muscle tone. If this is observed, your baby may benefit from an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist.”
"Sometimes babies may have large tongues or small mouths and it’s perfectly healthy," Moorjani says. "There may be some congenital syndromes if your baby has a bunch of other abnormalities."
Tongue protrusion in older babies needs to be addressed if it's inhibiting the child from moving to solid foods or learning to speak. Speech or physical therapy might be in order once your pediatrician is able to rule out any serious conditions in a baby older than 6 months. As Healthline pointed out, "You can carry tongue-thrust forward into adulthood from untreated childhood habits or issues."
However, if you have a younger infant and you get a thrill out of how cute that little tongue is, enjoy making all the silly faces you want.
Jean Moorjani, M.D., board-certified pediatrician at Orlando's Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children
Ashley Heinemann, certified speech-language pathologist at Children’s of Alabama
Meghan B. Amerson, certified speech-language pathologist and outpatient speech-language pathology supervisor at Children's of Alabama
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