extrusion reflex in newborns

There are a set of significant milestones that every parent eagerly waits to witness while their baby is growing.

From the first smile to their first steps, first words and most importantly the first time they start eating solid food, every milestone makes the baby more mature.

For the first four to six months, a baby is contended to feed on formula or breast milk. As the child grows, parents tend to switch the diet of the baby by initiating the intake of solid food.

Often when the babies are not ready to eat solid food, they push it right back. Such a reflex is called as an extrusion reflex.

Extrusion reflex is often considered as a protective mechanism adopted by the baby against food that they don’t want to consume.

Usually, it is done by spitting the food out with the help of the tongue. This tongue thrust motion protects the baby from choking or aspirating the food.

Let’s quickly move ahead into the article and learn more about extrusion reflex in babies.

What is extrusion reflex?

Babies under six months of age commonly feed on breast milk or formula solution. Often at this time, parents try to introduce solid food to the baby. (1)

When solid food is put into the mouth of the baby, they spit it out automatically. Such a reflex mechanism is called as extrusion reflex.

Often parents think that the baby does not like the food. But it is just a reflex to protect them from choking or aspirating on the food.

Usually, babies grow out of extrusion reflex after seven months of age.

Why do babies have an extrusion reflex?

Every child is born with a set of body reflexes that help them to survive during the first few months of life.

Expulsion of food by tongue thrusting is one of the reflexes that a child adapts to prevent choking on the food or any foreign body that enters their mouth.

Such a reflex can be seen commonly by touching their tongue. The tongue is thrust out automatically to prevent the entry of any foreign object other than the breast or the nipple of a bottle.

When does extrusion reflex develop in a baby?

It is unclear when the reflex develops in the baby. But extrusion reflex is commonly seen in newborn babies under the age of 6 months.

The tongue thrust motion developed in this reflex works together with suckling. It helps the baby to swallow the milk. Suckling mechanism extends between 32-36 weeks of gestation.

How long does extrusion reflex last?

Like any other developmental milestone, babies grow out of extrusion reflex with time and accept solid food diet.

Usually, after 6-7 months of age, the extrusion reflex starts to fade away. This is the time when babies respond positively to solid food intake.

The diet changes from breast or bottle milk to cereals, puree, and softened table food. (2)

Sometimes, extrusion reflex may be present for a prolonged period. This can happen because of two reasons –

  • Prolonged infantile swallowing or habit of suckling
  • Improper tooth alignment

Consulting a doctor is recommended at this stage to correct the underlying problem and help the baby to improve the swallowing pattern.

Methods to check extrusion reflex in your baby

One of the simplest ways to test extrusion reflex in a baby is to offer a spoon as if you are feeding the baby. The spoon can be empty, or you can put a small amount of cereal, the breast milk of bottle formula.

During this event, if the baby thrusts the tongue forward and rejects the spoon, the reflex is still present.

If the baby opens the mouth and accepts the food, the reflex may be fading or is gone completely.

There are some individual signs that you can look for in your baby to check if the baby is ready to eat solid food –

  • The child can hold the head up independently
  • The child sits up in a high chair
  • The child opens the mouth when a spoon full of food is offered
  • The child draws both the lips inward when the spoon is removed from the mouth

When should you consult a doctor?

Extrusion reflex generally fades away as the child grows older. However, if you notice this reflex in an older baby, it is probably due to malalignment of teeth or prolonged infantile swallowing. Some of the symptoms include –  (3)

  • Prolonged suckling
  • Tongue resting in the wrong position
  • Open lips in resting position
  • Speaking with a lisp
  • Difficulty in chewing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Chapped lips

A pediatrician or a pediatric dentist can help to detect this condition and provide solutions to help the baby to grow out of extrusion reflex.

Take away message

Extrusion reflex is a normal developmental mechanism that is present in every child during the first four to six months of life.

It usually fades away over time as the baby grows older. This reflex can be tested at home by introducing a spoon to the baby.

If the baby rejects the spoon by thrusting the tongue out, it indicates the presence of extrusion reflex. If the baby opens the mouth and accepts the food, it suggests that the baby has grown out of extrusion reflex.

In most cases, extrusion reflex starts to fade away by seven months of age. However, it may persist in some babies for a long time.

In such situations, you can consult a pediatrician or a pediatric dentist to rule out any dental abnormalities that may be interfering with the swallowing pattern.

Look out for the symptoms of prolonged tongue thrusting and consult the doctor immediately.