Baby tongue thrust is quite normal during feeding or at rest and there is nothing to worry about. Tongue thrust refers to a position in which tongue comes out to the front teeth during eating, speaking or at rest.
Babies usually develop the habit when they first start feeding. It is a natural phase that creates swallowing reflex which helps infants to consume a liquid diet.
Let’s explore more about baby tongue thrust, how a baby develops swallowing pattern, the difference in infant and adult tongue thrust, the cause of restricted tongue movement and when to consult a doctor.
What is baby tongue thrust?
Baby tongue thrust is an involuntary phenomenon in which a baby takes out tongue to exert force while sucking milk. This habit is also called as an infantile swallow.
The habit of the outward position of the tongue is so common that babies usually adopt this at resting state also. The absence of tongue thrust at birth is considered as abnormal. Tongue thrust in infants is a self-correcting pattern.
As soon as the infant begins to consume solid food at the age of 4-6 months, the habit slowly diminished on its own.
But, if baby doesn’t leave tongue thrusting habit after six months or if it persists even after the eruption of primary teeth, then severe teeth abnormalities and speech problem may arise at a later age.Do you know that the development of swallowing begins even before a child is born?Click To Tweet
How baby develops swallowing pattern?
The function of swallowing itself starts when the baby is inside a mother’s body. The amniotic fluid that exchanges food and nutrients between mother and baby is regulated by pre-natal swallowing pattern.
Here, pre-natal refers to before birth. Note that pregnancy lasts for 40 weeks and a child born before 37 weeks is considered premature.
The first swallow that develops in the baby is a pharyngeal swallow. This starts to develop when a fetus is about 15 weeks. The forward and backward movement of the tongue begins at 18 to 24 week.
In a healthy fetus, oral feeding may be done by 32 to 33 weeks. (1) When a baby is born, sucking and swallowing reflexes are naturally present. The absence of baby thrust suggests a developmental defect.
For instance, when an object touches baby lips, baby protrudes tongue automatically out of natural reflex. This is how the baby sucks milk during bottle or breastfeeding.
You can also test to find the normal function of your baby reflexes. Put a clean object, like a finger, pacifier or bottle, etc., inside the mouth of an infant.
A healthy baby will touch his lips on purpose and squeeze the object in between tongue and palate.
Is tongue thrust in babies and adults the same?
Tongue thrust in infants is considered an essential habit that helps in the consumption of milk or food.
On the other hand, in adults, it is termed as a disorder that can cause severe developmental disturbances of teeth and jaw.
Babies are born with the reflex that induces tongue thrust. Whereas, if the habit of infantile swallow or push persists in the older child, then it can lead to harmful thrusting addiction in adults.
Babies only depend on the tongue thrust to suck milk. On the other side, an adult has well-developed swallowing functions and teeth.
My baby tongue is movement restricted, why?
In some baby, congenital disability lead to thickened, tightened or shortened frenulum. (2) The frenulum is a structure that attaches tongue to the floor of the mouth, and you can see it when a baby moves his tongue upward.
The structural deformity in the frenulum is called tongue tie or ankyloglossia that restricts the side and forward movement of the tongue.
Symptoms that you can notice in the baby having tongue-tie includes open mouth posture, mouth breathing, inability to grab nipple, gumming or chewing on the breasts, unable to use pacifier or bottle, etc.
A simple way to check tongue tie is by moving finger under your baby’s mouth. Try to feel the area and look if the frenulum is attached to the tongue.
If you find any abnormality in the movement of the tongue or feel tightness in the frenulum, then call your healthcare provider.
Treatment is possible in case of tongue-tie with no side effects. A small surgical procedure is performed in which cut is given to release the frenulum, and the method is called frenotomy.
When to consult a doctor?
If you see your child’s tongue coming out during eating, speaking or at rest even after the eruption of teeth, then you should consult a pediatrician.
It is not compulsory that your child will need treatment. Sometimes, tongue thrust habit goes on its own. But, if your child is older than four years and has difficulty in swallowing or speaking, then treatment might be required.
Also, a kid might develop protruded front teeth if tongue thrust does not go on its own. After the child is examined properly, a proper treatment is planned. If required, a speech therapist starts with the treatment session.
If a child developed any disturbance in the growth of teeth or jaw, then a dentist or orthodontist advice may require.
Tongue thrusting in babies is a natural phenomenon and part of the feeding process. However, after a certain age, a persistent habit of tongue thrusting is considered abnormal and harmful for the dental and speech development of a child.
If a child has difficulty in tongue movement or if tongue thrust persists even after a particular age, then you should seek advice from a child’s healthcare provider.