What is a Tongue Thrust Reflex in Babies?
There are many exciting milestones and developments that take place in your baby’s first year of life - and so many of those are tied to food. One such milestone is the tongue thrust reflex in babies, also known as the extrusion reflex, which appears at birth and disappears in infancy.
This is a normal development in your baby’s first year of life, and knowing what it is and what it means for weaning and development is important.
Why Do Babies Have the Extrusion Reflex?
The tongue thrust reflex in babies means they naturally push their tongues out when they breastfeed or bottle feed to help them swallow. It helps them to feed safely without choking. It also makes latching onto a nipple or bottle easier.
You can watch this reflex in action - if you’ve ever tried to put a spoon into a young baby’s mouth, her tongue will pop out to prevent anything other than a bottle or breast from entering her mouth.
The infant tongue thrust reflex is present because when babies are very small, their muscles aren’t developed enough to swallow anything other than liquids.
So rest easy - if your baby is pushing out her tongue while she’s feeding, that is a natural and normal reflex and helps her feed effectively and safely.
When Do They Lose This Reflex?
Typically, babies lose this reflex around four to six months old. It’s a normal stage of development for babies to lose the tongue thrust reflex on their own as they get ready to begin eating solid foods.
However, some children may continue displaying this reflex into later developmental stages, from later infancy to toddlerhood and into early childhood.
There are a variety of reasons their extrusion reflex doesn’t disappear on its own. Your child could have ear, nose, or throat issues such as enlarged tonsils or allergies. Habits like using a pacifier or thumb sucking can also cause the tongue thrust reflex to persist.
While the delayed disappearance of the extrusion reflex isn’t dangerous, it can cause problems down the line, including:
- Speech problems
- Problems chewing correctly
- Tongue sticking out while swallowing, speaking, or resting
- Displaced teeth that require orthodontic correction
Signs that your child has abnormal tongue thrust include prolonged sucking, their tongue resting in the wrong position, open resting lips, and problems chewing food. If your child has one or more of these symptoms and you suspect there may be a problem, consult their pediatrician to see what your next steps should be. Tongue thrust issues can be corrected, so it’s best to address these early on.
Baby-Led Weaning and Extrusion Reflex
Weaning your baby onto solid foods is an exciting time. But successful introduction of solid foods should only begin when the tongue thrust reflex has begun to fade. Since the extrusion reflex prevents babies from taking spoons or solid foods into their mouths, waiting until it’s lessened or gone makes the weaning process much easier.
And tongue thrust reflex is just one of the developmental milestones that can tell you if your baby is ready to introduce solid foods. The others include:
- Holding his head up by himself
- Sitting up in a high chair
- Being interested in solid foods
Baby-led weaning is an increasingly popular method of weaning - it allows your child to feed himself from the start instead of transitioning to parent-fed purees. As with any weaning process, it’s important to wait until your baby is developmentally ready to eat solid foods, like when their tongue thrust reflex is gone, to introduce baby-led weaning.
If you’re not sure if your baby’s extrusion reflex is gone, you can test it in a simple and safe way:
- Offer her a spoon as if you’re trying to feed her (the spoon can be clean or have a small amount of baby cereal with formula or breast milk)
- If her tongue thrusts forward and rejects the spoon, her extrusion reflex is still active
- If she opens her mouth and accepts the spoon, her extrusion reflex is fading or gone
The tongue thrust reflex in babies is an important part of their development to know about. As always, if you have questions or concerns, talk to your pediatrician. And once this reflux has faded and you’re looking for a safe, tasty, healthy option for baby-led weaning, try Tiny Organics.