Last updated January 12th, 2021
Isn’t it cute when your little one sticks out her tongue even when she doesn’t even know how to turn on her tummy properly? You start imitating her and soon realize that she’s having fun and playing with you. But, when this behavior is seen throughout the day, every now and then, it’s easy for first-time parents to get worried about whether this is normal behavior or not.
Well, the simple answer is that this type of behavior is considered normal among infants and can be caused by many reasons like hunger, feeling full, tongue thrust, or teething. Certain medical conditions like a large tongue or a small jaw and chin, a mass in the mouth can also cause your child to stick her tongue out. Usually, it’s not a matter of concern as it is considered part of their developmental stage. They may also stick their tongue out to imitate you or to get a reaction from you. A tongue thrust will be gone by the age of 4 to 6 months, and after that, it could be just a sign of your baby playing. But, if you are concerned about your baby or if something looks unusual for you, make sure to visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Reasons why your baby sticks her tongue out
Commonly, this act of sticking their tongue out is considered normal and a part of their development. Babies below the age of 6 months explore their world through their eyes and mostly their mouth. If you have noticed, your baby also loves sucking her fingers or will try to taste your nose when you go closer to her. While babies over 6 months of age stick their tongue out on purpose.
When my little one turned 9 months old and realized that he gets a reaction from us every time he sticks his tongue out, he kept on doing it. Or, he would do it on purpose, trying to imitate me whenever I play with him.
Your baby is Hungry or Full
Crying isn’t the first sign of hunger; if you have observed, your baby shows many hunger cues before crying. Crying is considered the last resort for babies to show that they’re hungry, and one of the foremost hunger cues is sticking their tongue out. They may turn their head to either side and stick their tongue out to show that they’re hungry.
Sticking their tongue out after you’ve fed them can also mean they’re full. They might unlatch and stick their tongue out to indicate that they’ve had enough, but there are times when they are still hungry after a breastfeeding session and show their hunger cue. If you don’t understand whether your baby is full or not, you can try offering milk again, and if she rejects your breasts or a bottle, then she’s full.
Also, once they start having solid food, you might notice your child sticking her tongue out with a dislike expression on their face signaling that they didn’t like the food. So, expose them more and more to different textures and colors, and they’ll soon accepting different kinds of food.
Your baby has a Tongue Thrust reflex
Your baby is born with a strong sucking reflex, which helps them latch and breastfeed properly. A part of this reflex is the tongue thrust reflex, where they stick their tongue outwards and touch their lips.
A tongue-thrust helps protect babies from choking, and it makes it easier for infants to latch properly. This reflex lasts till they are 4 or 6 months of age, after which they are ready for solids. But, if you are introducing solids and notice that your little one still has her tongue thrust reflex, then it simply means that she isn’t yet ready for solids. Losing this reflex is one of the primary signs indicating that a baby is ready for their first solid food.
Your baby is Imitating You
Your baby can be quite playful after the age of 7 months. Your baby sticking her tongue out might be just a playful response or imitating an adult or an elder sibling’s behavior.
They might also do it to get a reaction from you. If an adult laughs when a baby sticks out her tongue, then she might do it more to get a reaction.
I remember my little one would always be cheeky and stick his tongue out when I try to smother him with kisses. It’s a little playful thing that we enjoy every day. He knows that he gets a happy reaction from me every time he does it, and I love playing with him.
So, if you think you’re little one is just being playful, then enjoy the moment and play along with them because it never stops being cute.
Your baby is breathing from their mouth
Babies usually breathe from their noses, but if they have nasal congestion or large tonsils, it is possible that they’re breathing from their mouth instead, which can make them stick their tongue out.
If you notice your baby having difficulty breathing, wheezing, or her nostrils flaring, take her to a pediatrician immediately.
Your baby has gas
Many friends have told me that their babies have different reactions while experiencing gas pains or when they are passing gas, and sticking out their tongue is one of the reactions.
If a baby has an abnormally large tongue than average, then a condition such as this is known as Macroglossia. Babies having this condition stick their tongue out more than usual.
Macroglossia can be one of the symptoms of syndromes like Down syndrome or Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. Macroglossia occurs because of a genetic condition or abnormal blood vessel or muscle development in the tongue.
If you notice your baby having such concerns or have difficulty feeding, swallowing, or excessive drooling, then consult your baby’s pediatrician immediately.
Micrognathia is when a baby has a small jaw and chin where they cannot contain the tongue in their mouth. This can be caused due to some underlying condition or due to a genetic condition.
Micrognathia can be caused due to cleft palate or cleft lip, Pierre Robin syndrome, Marfan’s syndrome, or Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, among others.
Children born with Down syndrome can also have distinct facial features, smaller than average mouth, and even decreased muscle tone.
Mass or abnormal growth in the mouth
There might be a swollen gland or a mass in the mouth, which can take up enough space in the mouth, causing babies to stick their tongue out more than often. This can be caused due to a tumor or due to a cyst, or an infection of a salivary gland.
Hypotonia is weak muscle tone, and since the tongue is a muscle and is also controlled by other muscles in the mouth and if it’s weak, it can cause the tongue to protrude out. It can happen due to Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy, and DiGeorge syndrome.
When to See a Doctor?
First-time parents can freak out every time a child does something different or unique that you never heard or seen before. But, if you’re concerned about a certain behavior, then seek a professional’s help anytime you want.
But if your child exhibits a sudden change in behavior after an injury, illness, or fever, visit your doctor immediately.
Also, if you’re baby shows constant signs of hunger, especially if you’re breastfeeding or your baby shows signs of physical discomfort or if they stick their tongue out more than often along with trouble feeding or swallowing, call your doctor immediately.
Most of the time, a baby sticking her tongue out is usually not a matter of concern and is due to hunger, or feeling satiated, or just mere playing. It is normal for parents to worry because it sometimes gets hard to understand what your baby feels as they aren’t able to communicate with you.
But, all I want to say is relax, don’t panic or fret easily, observe your child, and if something seems quite unusual, then there are always professionals available to help you whenever you need them.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not running after her kid, Kelin is busy reading, travelling, and penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.