Infants or babies make lots of funny faces and do some strange actions as they continue to grow. All this is done to strengthen various parts of the body. However, some actions are too repetitive, raising concern among the caretakers.
Fortunately, in most cases, such actions as chewing tongue and sticking it out are absolutely normal and not a cause for concern. Nonetheless, the frequency of such actions may provide some clues about the baby’s health and, in sporadic cases, may indicate something more severe.
Common reasons for baby chewing tongue
Here are some of the most common reasons for baby chewing tongue:
- Just playing or exploring body parts– one of the reasons why playtime is so vital for babies or children is that they improve their control over the body during it. So, in most cases, all the baby is doing by chewing the tongue is strengthening various muscles, improving coordination between various muscles, and exploring actions. It is vital to understand that a child is born with several reflexes and playing with the tongue is one of them. Thus, such kinds of movements are absolutely normal and not a cause to worry.
- It is just a habit – as already mentioned, most caretakers would get worried if certain actions are repeated too often by a child. Most parents will only seek medical advice if they notice that their baby is chewing their tongue for too long and all too often. In many cases, infants or babies tend to develop certain habits without realizing that. In most such cases, such a habit would be short-lived, and a child will outgrow it. In some instances, diverting a child’s attention to something more interesting may also help prevent repetitive actions.
- Sign of hunger – identifying a simple thing like when a child is hungry or full is not as straightforward as many might assume. Since each baby is unique, so is their way of expressing hunger . For example, poking the tongue out or chewing it could be one of the signs of hunger. However, it is vital to understand that there is no single or universal sign of showing hunger by babies. Some may put their hands in their mouth, and others might smack or lick. Moreover, as the child grows, these signs also keep changing.
- Baby has a large tongue – some babies may have an exceptionally large tongue, so they may appear to chew tongue or stick it out more frequently. The large tongue in the baby is called macroglossia in medical terms. Macroglossia may be due to genetics, some developmental issues. However, in rare cases, macroglossia may indicate conditions like thyroid disease or even tumors. It is also worth knowing that macroglossia is one of the significant signs of Down’s syndrome2. In some cases, macroglossia may indicate some severe underlying issue, especially when present, along with other signs like excessive drooling, difficulty in feeding.
- Baby has a small mouth – in medical terminology, it is called micrognathia. There could be several reasons for a small mouth like pre-term birth, genetics, and much more. However, it is also vital to notice that micrognathia may also indicate a specific congenital disorder. Micrognathia is common in various genetic disorders, and Pierre Robin syndrome is one of the most common of them. Many children with micrognathia may have other developmental issues. In some instances, it may indicate an undiagnosed and rare genetic condition. However, it is essential to know that in such cases lower jaw of the baby will be visibly smaller-than-average3.
- May indicate sleep disorder – until recent times, doctors thought that sleep disorders are only found in adults. However, they are slowly realizing that these disorders are more common in babies than assumed earlier. There could be many causes for sleep disorders like large tonsils, nasal congestion. These problems mean that child is more likely to breathe from the mouth. Frequent mouth breathing may appear as if a child is chewing a tongue. Many of the issues causing sleep disorder and mouth breathing may need medical attention and even surgical correction in rare cases.
- Gastrointestinal issues – in very few cases, tongue chewing may indicate the presence of some gastric issue, indigestion, passing gas. Babies may react differently to such health issues, with some crying frequently and others chewing tongue.
- Baby not ready for solid food- generally, it is recommended to add solid foods after 6 months of age. However, it is vital to understand that this is not a hard and fast rule. Quite like children start walking at different ages, they gain control over the tongue and throat differently. It means that sticking out the tongue or chewing tongue too often may indicate that a baby is not ready for solid food yet.
To conclude, a baby’s chewing tongue is just a part of growing. It is a normal activity for a child, and some may even form a habit. Like many other things, most babies will outgrow it.
Nevertheless, it may be a cause for concern if it continues for too long, like more than 12 months.
One should seek medical attention if other uncommon signs are present, like crying too often, slow growth, feeding problems, breathing from the mouth, biting tongue with excessive force, and other facial abnormalities.
- CDC. Signs Your Child is Hungry or Full. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 11, 2020. Accessed June 15, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/mealtime/signs-your-child-is-hungry-or-full.html
- Guimaraes CVA, Donnelly LF, Shott SR, Amin RS, Kalra M. Relative rather than absolute macroglossia in patients with Down syndrome: implications for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. Pediatr Radiol. 2008;38(10):1062-1067. doi:10.1007/s00247-008-0941-7
- Bromley B, Benacerraf BR. Fetal micrognathia: associated anomalies and outcome. Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. 1994;13(7):529-533. doi:10.7863/jum.19126.96.36.1999