We all know that no baby can take in any pain and stay collected. So, take comfort in knowing that if this behavior did hurt, then your child would not persist in pursuing it.
Numerous times within the day, you may notice your baby’s mouth moving around in a chewing motion, almost as though they are chewing gum. It is a perfectly normal developmental milestone in your little one, but it can be quite baffling the first time you see them doing it.
Being a major player in chewing and swallowing, in more cases than not, it might simply mean that your baby has just discovered her tongue. Not only will she put her toes in her mouth, chew on her fingers, but she will also start “chewing” her tongue. However, in rare occurrences, tongue chewing can become an alarming habit and possibly a warning sign of a more fundamental problem.
In this article, I will share more on why your baby might be chewing on her tongue, what transition milestones are right around the corner, and some issues to watch out for, as I learned with my little girl.
Reasons for baby chewing tongue
There are several reasons why your baby could be chewing on her tongue, and a lot of the time, they are completely normal as it could be a routine part of her developmental milestones. These include:
Older babies will chew on their hands while we, the parents, will readily offer a pacifier if the baby is looking into sucking on something.
A newborn with no ability to coordinate her hands into her mouth and cannot ask for a pacifier makes the same chewing gesture, which is part of her sacking reflex, and the result is your baby chewing on her tongue.
They found their tongue
As your baby gets older, she starts to learn that her body consists of different parts like fingers and toes that she can move and play with, and she will also discover that she has a tongue.
As babies play with their tongues, they will most probably chew on them.
To know if this is the reason behind your baby’s tongue chewing situation, pay attention to what else she is doing. If she is constantly sticking her fingers inside her mouth to learn what’s in there and moving her tongue or sticking it out, then she is more than likely chewing on her tongue as a form of discovery.
Baby feels hungry
As these babies get older, they associate chewing with eating. So instead of screaming for a feed, they might start chewing on their tongue as it is already in their mouth.
You can find out if your baby is doing it because they are hungry by paying attention to when she does it. For example, if it is close to mealtime or she stops once she is fed, then this is a clue that she is hungry.
Necessary developmental milestone
The tongue plays an important function in eating solid food. If your baby is around 4 months old, then it is common for them to be chewing on their tongue as at this age, they are almost getting ready to start on solids.
They are just learning how to move it properly. So it is nothing to worry about as it will pass on its own. Other signs that your baby is ready for solids to include:
- Interest in other people’s food
- Capable of sitting up straight in a high chair.
- Strong head control.
Of all the reasons for tongue chewing, teething is the most concrete of them all. Babies try different ways to alleviate the pain as they begin to develop teeth, and slowly, they realize that pressure on the gum does just that.
With nothing valuable to apply pressure on, they settle for their tongue and chew away. Other signs of teething are swollen red gums, irritability and drooling, biting and gnawing, diarrhea, cheek rubbing, and ear pulling, and also skin rashes in some babies.
What to do about baby tongue chewing
Even though it is normal for babies to chew on their tongues, it may still bother some parents.
Parents will worry about the baby accidentally hurting herself, and some parents will want the baby’s needs met other than allowing them to self-soothe by chewing on their tongue. These are some easy suggestions that can help your child stop chewing on their tongue.
Start solid foods
Chewing the tongue as a developmental milestone means your baby is just about ready to start on solid food. If your baby is old enough to start baby food, then it’s time for that important milestone.
While at it, do not forget to follow the guidelines when feeding your baby new food. Introduce one food at a time to determine if there are any allergies, and only feed them small portions to avoid choking.
Check out some tips for feeding your baby, as they will still need to breastfeed to get those important vitamins.
While at it, do not forget that bringing on the solids too early might undermine future eating patterns. The baby may refuse to take that spoonful simply because she is not ready and then reject them later on because of the parental pushing.
Don’t try to stop the baby from chewing the tongue
If your baby’s tongue chewing is part of her developmental milestone then, please leave it alone.
Babies need to inspect how their tongues work to be able to eat suitably. Once they master how to move their tongue properly, the behavior will more than likely die a natural death.
Satisfy the sucking reflex
If your baby is still younger, close to newborn age, and you think that this is part of the baby’s sucking reflex, then you should introduce a pacifier to suck on.
This can assist in alleviating the sucking urge and lessen the duration the baby spends chewing their tongue.
If your baby is chewing on their tongue because they are hungry, try enforcing a feeding plan.
That way, you will feed her before she displays the hunger cues. This alone might be sufficient to get her to stop the behavior.
Provide teething toys
If babies are teething, they will chew on about anything. As a parent, if you notice teeth coming out or that the baby has swollen gums, provide teething toys or, better yet, encourage them to chew on something else that will distract them from chewing their tongue.
You can also help relieve the pressure by massaging your baby’s gums with your well-cleaned fingers.
To determine what will get your baby to stop the tongue chewing, it is important to figure out why they are chewing on their tongue in the first place.
Look for indicator clues such as swollen gums for teething babies. This will inform you of the appropriate action to take to put a stop to tongue chewing. It’s also very important to know when it is time to worry.
When to worry about your baby chewing on their tongue
Most parents are worried as soon as they spot the baby nibble her tongue, but you don’t need to just yet. Tongue chewing is normal as babies learn they have it in their mouth, and they are learning to move their mouth to try and chew.
Babies can start to develop fine motor skills practically overnight, and you want to be sure that they didn’t put anything inside their mouth that shouldn’t be there. Make sure you check their mouth frequently.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, so keep checking their mouth as we all know how adorable and cuddly they are, as well as how cheeky they can get.
Also, if you notice that the tongue chewing hinders your baby from breathing well, by slow and stable rate as expected, or a dark-ish tint around the inside of their mouth, do not hesitate to contact your doctor.
Treat such symptoms as an emergency because there is a probability that it is.
As babies get older, most of them will drop this behavior. If they continue to chew on the tongue as they grow teeth, they might accidentally hurt themselves. And if they do and it hurts, they will quit. Some babies also quit without ever hurting themselves. They simply outgrow it.
Other times, this behavior signals other underlying issues or disorders such as anxiety, and it may also affect their oral development later down the road.
If your baby continues to chew on their tongue as they get older and it is beginning to concern you, then it never hurts to double-check with their pediatrician to ease your worries.
Were you shocked when you first noticed your little one chewing on their tongue? Leave a comment on the comments section below and let me know your thoughts and just how you dealt with it.