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Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongue Out and Is it Serious?

It is quite normal for parents and caregivers to observe their babies sticking out their tongue. This can happen for a variety of reasons which has been outlined below but sometimes they may do it for no specific reason. By sticking their tongue out, a baby may want to convey a message that he or she is hungry, full, or does not like a particular food.[1,2,3]

Sometimes, babies stick out their tongue to get attention from their parents or caregivers. Having an understanding of the baby’s habit can help the parents determine as to why their babies are sticking out their tongue. Habits of babies change as they grow. The reasons for babies to stick out their tongue also change with age.[1,2,3]

Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongue Out?

The reasons for babies to stick their tongue out can best be described by breaking them down into two categories namely for babies under 6 months of age and for babies over 6 months.[2,3]

Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongue Out and Is it Serious?

For Babies Under Six Months Of Age:

Reflex Action: Sometimes, babies stick their tongue out when their lips are touched. This is called as tongue thrust reflex. The reflex makes it easier for babies to suck and drink milk when breastfeeding or being bottle fed. The tongue thrust reflex is temporary and goes way by the time the baby is 6 months of age. It is recommended that a baby should not be given any form of solid food until the tongue thrust reflex completely disappears. This normally happens after six months of age.[3]

Hunger: This is the most common cause of babies under six months of age to stick their tongue out. Whenever a baby is hungry, this is the best way they can tell their parents or caregivers. The baby may also turn the head one way and open the mouth and then do the same thing by turning the head in the opposite direction.[3]

Genetic Problems: There are certain genetic medical condition which a baby to have a longer tongue than normal. In such instances, the tongue of the baby sticks out of the mouth. Babies with Down syndrome commonly have a large tongue and stick their tongue out. However, it is very rare for a baby to stick out their tongue due to genetic reasons and thus if a baby sticks the tongue out that does not mean there is some genetic problem at play.[3]

For Babies Over 6 Months of Age:

After about six months, the baby is big enough to be able to communicate to an extent with their parents through gestures. Sticking the tongue out is one of them.

Imitation: Most babies start imitating certain adult behavior when they are about 8 months of age. Sticking the tongue out is one such gesture which signals that the baby has observed certain behavior like talking and trying to imitate that.[3]

Attention: Babies love getting attention and keep learning to find new ways of getting it. If an adult praises or laughs at the baby sticking out the tongue then they try and do it more often to get attention. In some situations the adult may not like this behavior but the baby will still do it just because of curiosity as to why he does not like it.[3]

Hunger: Some babies find that if they stick their tongue out that they will get food. Thus whenever they are hungry they may stick the tongue out to signal that they want food. Sometimes babies keep sticking their tongue out even after feeding. This can happen due to various reasons. To understand why, it is essential for the caregiver or parent to understand the body language of the baby.[3]

Sometimes, babies do it to signal that they are full and do not want to eat more. They may also turn their head away from food. They may stick their tongue out to push the food away. Sometimes, the baby may still be hungry and wants more food. They may signal this by sticking their tongue out. This is seen especially in breastfeeding babies if the mother is not producing enough milk.[3]

Dislike of Food: Some babies stick their tongue out when they do not like the taste of a specific food. This is seen in babies who are gradually introduced to formula and solid foods. It should be noted that the baby should never be forced to eat. The parents should continue introducing range of healthy food products as it takes time and multiple attempts for the baby to like a specific food.[3]

When Is It A Cause For Concern?

Generally sticking the tongue out is not a cause of worry or concern. However, if a baby sticks the tongue out for valid reason then a visit to a pediatrician may be advisable. This is more so if they display other developmental problems. If a baby is sticking the tongue out and it is accompanied by other behavioral changes such as continuously feeling hungry even after being properly fed can be an indicator that the baby is not able to absorb nutrition properly.[3]

Baby sticking their tongue out and showing behavioral changes after a head trauma or injury is an emergent medical situation and the baby should be taken to the emergency room immediately. A visit to a pediatrician is also warranted if the baby sticks the tongue out and shows sign of hunger despite being fed properly or has problems swallowing food.[3]

A visit to a pediatrician is also warranted if the baby shown signs of physical discomfort with persistent crying. Emergency room visit is indicated in cases where a baby shows behavioral changes after a fever or after recovering from an illness.[3]

In conclusion, parenting can be quite stressful for some mainly because it is tough to understand the babies and their gestures when they are not able to communicate with their adults caregivers clearly. Sticking the tongue out is one way that babies communicate. They do it to signal that they are hungry or they are full after eating. They may also do it to show dislike to certain food products.[1,2,3]

Some babies stick their tongue out intentionally just to seek a reaction from the adult. Sticking the tongue out is not a cause for concern and very rarely signals an underlying condition. However, it is recommended that parents who are worried about this behavior of their baby and notice other signs that have been explained above should get the baby checked up with a physician to identify a cause and start treatment if required.[1,2,3]


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 14, 2021

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