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Article: Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongues In and Out?

Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongues In and Out?

Why Do Babies Stick Their Tongues In and Out?

Has your little one ever entertained themselves by repeatedly sticking their tongue in and out? If so, you're not alone. Licking lips, blowing raspberries, sliding the tongue in and out - as cute as it is to watch, parents often wonder why babies repeat these tongue thrusting motions. From the first moments when an infant's tongue pokes out to mirror their caregiver to the toddler who can't seem to keep their tongue in their mouth, this phenomenon is common in babies.

As adorable as it is, repetitive tongue thrusting can leave parents perplexed and wondering - why do babies do that? This article explores some of the developmental, communicative, and exploratory reasons behind this behavior. 

Why do babies stick their tongues out?

To help put your mind at ease about your baby's health, let's explore some of the common reasons babies stick out their tongues. Understanding the likely causes can provide insight into your child's health and guide your response.

When considering why a baby sticks out their tongue, it helps to look at two age stages, as the reasons differ by development. This breakdown can help parents better understand their behavior, meet their evolving needs, and provide appropriate care and interaction.

Close up kid with open mouth

Under 6 months:

Reflexes: In early infancy, newborns exhibit sucking reflexes, instinctive responses to help them eat. They naturally stick out their tongues to mimic sucking motions to find a bottle or breast.

Early development: In the first months, babies focus on survival through eating, sleeping, and basic sensory growth. Their actions are driven by physical needs. Tongue thrusting is a physiological reflex that helps them eat and meet basic needs.

Hunger: When babies are hungry, they may instinctively stick out their tongues as a way to signal to caregivers that they want to feed. Sticking out the tongue is a natural reflex that babies exhibit when anticipating food. The tongue helps direct milk or formula from the nipple to the back of the mouth for swallowing. By sticking their tongues out when hungry, babies are subconsciously preparing themselves to eat and receive nourishment.

Over 6 months:

Mouth breathing: Some babies tend to be mouth breathers even when they are not feeding. When babies breathe predominantly through their mouths instead of their noses, their tongues may hang lower in their mouths. Gravity causes the tongue to drop down and stick out partially between the lips. Mouth breathing could occur if a baby's nasal passages are blocked and they have to breathe through their mouth. The tongue sticks out as the mouth opens involuntarily during the act of mouth breathing. Sticking the tongue out allows for better airflow into the mouth and lungs for these mouth-breathing babies.

Oral muscle development: Older babies have developed more oral and swallowing skills. Tongue thrusting now exercises these muscles and swallowing ability rather than just being a reflex. The motion helps strengthen mouth and facial muscles, especially those related to emerging teeth. Thrusting may involve bites, up/down tongue motions, facial expressions, and more.

Teething relief: Tongue motions can soothe sore gums during teething as the pressure and motion gently massages the irritation. Babies may feel discomfort and thrust their tongues for relief while exercising the new teeth.

Exploring: As babies grow, they enter increased exploratory phases. Sticking out the tongue is one way babies explore their surroundings. They use their mouths and tongues to understand objects’ shapes, textures, and tastes.

Social interaction: As cognition and social skills develop, babies may stick out their tongues to interact and show happiness or curiosity. This explores their burgeoning social and communication skills.

Imitation: Babies imitate behaviors like tongue thrusting that they observe in adults or other infants. When babies observe other people sticking out their tongues or making certain facial expressions, they may try to mimic those movements. Imitation is an important developmental process as babies learn by watching others.

My mom's stories always are interesting

In summary, tongue thrusting is often a normal part of growth and development for babies. While there are various explanations for the behavior, in most cases it is harmless. If you have concerns about your baby’s actions or other symptoms accompany it, consulting a pediatrician can provide professional guidance.

When to See a Doctor

While repetitive tongue thrusting is a common and usually harmless behavior in babies, there are times when it's a good idea to consult your pediatrician.

If the tongue thrusting interferes with your baby's ability to breastfeed or bottle feed properly, bringing it up at your next well visit is recommended. Tongue movements needed for speech begin developing early, so if you still notice frequent tongue protrusions past age 4, consider mentioning it to your doctor.

Signs like facial weakness or asymmetry, trouble swallowing or other coordinated mouth movements, or language delays paired with the tongue thrusting can indicate an underlying neurological condition. Any time the tongue protrusion is accompanied by other symptoms or lack of developmental progress, check in with your pediatrician to make sure there is no cause for concern.

With isolated tongue thrusting, no other symptoms, and age-appropriate development, you can rest assured it's likely just a passing phase.

The meaning of sticking the tongue out

After gaining an understanding of why babies stick out their tongues, I'm sure you have put your mind at rest. Now let's shift gears and learn some fun facts about the cultural meanings associated with sticking one's tongue out.

In some parts of the world, sticking your tongue out is seen as a playful or mocking gesture. For example, in Western cultures it can imply teasing or insulting another person. Similarly, in parts of Asia, extending the tongue may communicate disrespect or defiance.

However, the gesture has more positive connotations in other cultures. In India, poking one's tongue out is a friendly way to beckon someone over or get their attention. Some Native American tribes viewed a tongue movement as a symbol of courage or strength.

Anthropologists have also found that the expression can signify happiness or emphasize speech depending on the context. For instance, sticking the tongue out when laughing might indicate joy and liveliness. And certain languages incorporate tongue motions to articulate certain sounds.

So in summary, while babies simply tongue out due to developmental needs, the action takes on diverse meanings across human societies and languages according to cultural norms and traditions.


In conclusion, we've explored the intriguing behavior of babies sticking out their tongues and the underlying developmental reasons behind it. As we've delved into the subject, it's become evident that babies engage in this action for a multitude of developmental purposes.

Throughout our discussion, we've uncovered that for infants under six months of age, tongue protrusion is often linked to natural reflexes, such as the sucking reflex, which aids in breastfeeding. It's primarily a response to their basic survival needs, facilitating essential nourishment and comfort.

For babies six months and older, the act of sticking out their tongues takes on a more exploratory role. It's a means of investigating their surroundings, objects, and tastes, as well as an exercise in developing oral muscles and honing their sensory experiences. It becomes a social and interactive tool, allowing them to mimic and engage with the world around them.

In essence, our exploration reaffirms the thesis that babies stick their tongues out for a variety of developmental reasons. Whether it's an instinctual response to their immediate needs or an engaging way to understand and interact with their environment, this simple action showcases the complexity and wonder of a baby's growth and development. Understanding these reasons not only helps parents and caregivers support their little ones but also highlights the incredible journey of a child's early life.

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Yujia Shi

An expert in sleep sack design, is a valued contributor to Kaiya Baby's blog. With a strong background in baby sleep bags and maternal care, she is highly regarded for her professionalism. Yujia Shi prioritizes baby comfort and safety in her designs, using high-quality materials. Her insightful articles on sleep bags have been featured in reputable publications and have gained a significant readership. Trust Yujia Shi to help you create a comfortable and safe sleep environment for your baby, backed by her proven track record in the industry.

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