Is your baby making a strange face, sticking their tongue out, and chewing on it like it’s the latest fad in the baby world? Rest assured, you’re not alone in your confusion.
Many parents find themselves asking, “Why is my baby chewing on their tongue?” If this question is keeping you awake at night, you’ve come to the right place.
This comprehensive guide will shed light on the reasons behind this peculiar behavior, and address all your concerns related to baby tongue chewing!
Is Baby Tongue Chewing Normal?
The first question that pops into most parents’ minds is, “Is baby tongue chewing normal?” Well, the short answer is, yes, it generally is.
Most babies engage in tongue chewing at some stage. It’s a part of their exploratory journey into the world of textures, tastes, and sensations.
However, like any other developmental behavior, it’s essential to keep an eye out for any unusual signs or symptoms.
The reasons for this habit can vary based on the baby’s age, developmental stage, and individual characteristics.
Why Babies Chew Their Tongues
Every baby is unique and so are the reasons behind their tongue-chewing.
Let’s take a closer look at these reasons, and understand why your little one might be embracing this peculiar habit.
Tongue Discovery Phase
Babies are natural explorers. As they grow and become more aware of their bodies, they engage in various behaviors.
Chewing on their tongue can simply be a result of them finding this movable object in their mouth.
It’s like a new toy they’ve discovered, and they’re trying to learn what it does by playing with it.
The Sucking Reflex
All babies are born with an array of natural reflexes. The sucking reflex is one of them. It’s an instinctual behavior that indicates their need to feed.
This reflex gets triggered when anything, like a feeding nipple or pacifier, touches their palate.
As a result, they might continue to chew on their tongue, which is an extension of this reflex.
Soothing The Teething Pain
Teething is a significant milestone that can cause discomfort to your little one. To relieve this discomfort, babies often chew on their tongues.
Along with tongue chewing, you may notice other signs of teething such as swollen gums and excessive drooling.
Readiness For Solid Foods
Around six months, babies start indicating their readiness for solid foods. One of the signs of this readiness can be tongue chewing.
This behavior is part of a protective reflex called the tongue-thrust reflex, which helps prevent choking.
As your baby grows and their reflexes evolve, the tongue-chewing habit naturally diminishes.
Babies often use sucking and chewing behaviors to comfort themselves.
Chewing on their tongue might provide a calming effect during stress or when they feel unsettled.
Developing Oral Motor Skills
Chewing movements play a vital role in strengthening your baby’s jaw muscles and developing essential oral motor skills.
These skills are crucial for later feeding and speech development.
Benefits Of Babies Chewing On Their Tongues
While it may seem odd, babies chewing on their tongues can have several benefits.
Here are a few:
- Jaw Development: The act of chewing on the tongue helps exercise the jaw muscles, promoting the proper alignment of the teeth.
- Teething Relief: Chewing on the tongue can help soothe aching gums and reduce discomfort during teething.
- Food Exploration: As babies chew on their tongues, they practice chewing food and explore different textures and tastes. This helps them develop a palate for different foods.
- Self-Feeding Skill: Chewing is a critical skill for self-feeding. It helps babies transition to solid foods by teaching them how to break down food items into smaller pieces.
- Drooling Control: Chewing on the tongue stimulates saliva production and movement, which can help reduce excessive drooling.
- Gum Health: Chewing on the tongue helps strengthen the gums, aiding proper tooth development.
Risks Associated With Baby Tongue Chewing
While baby tongue chewing is generally harmless, there are some potential risks to consider.
The development of an oral habit is the most common risk associated with baby tongue chewing.
If babies continue to chew on their tongues, they may develop an oral fixation that could lead to speech and eating issues later in life.
Additionally, baby tongue chewing can also result in drooling and gagging.
If your baby is continuously gagging or drooling, it’s crucial to consult a doctor to rule out any potential health issues.
Does Tongue Chewing Indicate Autism?
While some children and individuals with autism display repeated tongue-chewing behavior, it’s not indicative of autism in babies.
Autism is a complex condition requiring extensive testing at different stages in the child’s life for a diagnosis.
Therefore, baby tongue chewing should not be seen as a definitive sign of autism. If you have concerns about autism, consult your child’s pediatrician.
How To Deal With Baby Tongue Chewing
As a parent, if you’re concerned about your baby’s tongue chewing, there are a few things you can do to rule out other possibilities and soothe your baby.
Look for signs of hunger.
Hunger-related tongue chewing can be alleviated by feeding your baby as soon as they start showing signs of hunger.
These signs may include opening their mouth, sticking their tongue out, and smacking their lips.
Introduce your baby to solid foods.
If your baby is around six months old and still chewing on their tongue, it could be a sign they’re ready for solid foods.
Start with purees and semi-solids that are easy to chew and swallow, and gradually introduce a variety of solid foods.
Always consult your pediatrician if you have doubts about introducing solid foods.
Offer teething toys.
If you suspect your baby’s tongue chewing is triggered by teething, provide them with soothing toys to chew on for comfort.
Some teething toys can be cooled in the refrigerator, offering extra relief to their gums.
Distract your baby.
Your baby might be chewing their tongue because they’ve discovered it and find it amusing.
If this behavior bothers you, try distracting them with a toy or a game to break the habit.
Maintain a consistent feeding schedule.
If your baby’s tongue chewing is due to irregular feeding, you can fix it by feeding them on a schedule.
A regular feeding schedule helps your baby adapt to meal timings, reducing the chance of hunger-induced tongue chewing.
Monitor your baby for tongue injuries.
Keep an eye on your baby’s tongue to ensure they’re not inflicting any injuries by biting too hard.
If you notice any irritation or soreness, consult a pediatrician.
When Do Babies Stop Chewing On Their Tongues?
Babies typically stop chewing on their tongues as they grow and reach different developmental stages.
The exact age when this behavior diminishes can vary from one baby to another, as all babies develop at their own pace.
However, you can generally expect this behavior to decrease naturally once they reach milestones like teething, oral motor, and speech development.
Should Babies Be Given Teething Toys Instead?
Teething babies often find comfort in chewing on teething toys.
If you notice your baby chewing their tongue during teething, providing chew toys can help stop the behavior.
Always ensure the chew toys are safe and have been tested rigorously for baby use.
When To Consult A Doctor for Baby Tongue Chewing
In most cases, tongue chewing is relatively harmless and can be managed by feeding or distracting your baby.
However, there are times when you should consult your doctor, such as:
- Breathing Difficulties: If your baby’s tongue chewing seems excessive, and they appear to have difficulty breathing, it could indicate an underlying condition. Oversized tongues and poor muscle tone are physiological factors that can contribute to this behavior. Immediate medical attention is necessary if your baby struggles to breathe while chewing their tongue, or if there’s a bluish tinge around their mouth.
- Painful Chewing: Babies don’t repeat actions that cause them pain. However, they might accidentally bite their tongue and cause a painful sore due to excessive chewing. If they continue to chew despite the pain, seek immediate medical attention.
- Persistent Chewing Habit: Reflex actions associated with your baby’s tongue will disappear over time. If your baby continues to chew on their tongue past 12 months, consult a doctor.
- Oral Anomalies: Any anomalies in the mouth causing incorrect tongue positioning can lead to constant chewing. Genetic conditions resulting in an abnormally large tongue can also contribute to this behavior.
- Distraction During Feeding: If your child gets distracted by tongue chewing while trying to eat, consult a doctor.
- Symptoms Of Hypothyroidism: If you notice a protruding tongue associated with constipation, cold skin, poor feeding, and low activity, these could be symptoms of hypothyroidism in babies.
In most cases, tongue chewing is a developmental behavior that fades in a matter of weeks.
But sometimes, it could be caused by other factors such as teething or foreign objects in the mouth. If you ever have concerns, always consult a doctor.
Wrapping it Up
The behavior of babies chewing on their tongues can be a source of concern for parents.
However, it’s important to remember that this is typically a normal part of their development.
Babies explore their world through their senses, and their mouth is a primary source of exploration.
If the behavior persists, or if there are other concerning symptoms, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider.
Remember, as a parent, you know your baby best, so trust your instincts when it comes to their well-being.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.). Hypothyroidism in Children. Retrieved August 27, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hypothyroidism-in-children
- Healthline (2023, June 27). What Is Sucking Reflex? Retrieved August 27, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/sucking-reflex
- WebMD (2022, November 30). Teething. Retrieved August 27, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/teething-symptoms-remedies