When my eldest was just a wee little thing, I remember having her on my lap facing me. I was making silly faces, sticking out my tongue. And lo and behold, she did it right back! My baby was sticking her tongue in and out repeatedly!
The giggles ensued, and I knew she was just copying me. As she’s almost 10 now, I can’t recall how many months old she was at the time. But if your baby is sticking the tongue out a lot, it could mean a lot of things.
Fortunately, when the baby keeps sticking his tongue out, most of the reasons for doing so are quite harmless. Still, as a mama, I understand the need to quell any anxiety. We all wonder if what our babies are doing is normal or if there’s something to be concerned over.
In MOST cases, when your baby sticks her tongue out, it’s nothing to be worried about. I’m going to cover the reasons why your baby might be doing this to help you put your mind at ease.
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Why is my baby sticking her tongue out?
The thing with babies is that they’re getting used to this whole life-outside-the-womb thing. When you start noticing your baby sticking the tongue out all the time, it’s only natural to wonder if all babies do this or if it’s just yours. And, it’s just as natural to wonder OMG is something wrong?!?!? Calm down, Mama. I’ve got your back.
In short, it is very, very typical for a baby to stick out their tongue. Babies have that strong sucking reflex. Their instinct is to feed. With this comes the tongue-thrust reflex, where babies stick their tongues out. This is an automatic innate response that prevents choking and helps them properly latch on your breast for nursing.
A baby sticking her tongue out when hungry is a very common sign because of this. Also, she’s noticing she has lips. OMG, I HAVE LIPS!!! NEAT-O!
Again, most of the time, when the baby is sticking her tongue out, you’ve really got nothing to worry about. But there are some things that may be good reasons to have your pediatrician take a more in-depth look.
Here are the reasons your baby could be sticking out her tongue…
- Playfulness and desire to copy you
It’s not your imagination. Your baby might be sticking her tongue out simply because she’s copying you. Even if you are not currently sticking out your tongue, she may be practicing what she’s seen you and other adults do.
A baby sticking their tongue out at 6 months or 7 months, even 9 months and more, has been a common sight since it’s widely known older babies can imitate us. But this study here found that babies that are even just a couple of weeks old can stick out their tongues to imitate us too.
- That reflex thing I mentioned before
Remember what I said about the tongue-thrust reflex? All babies are born with this as it helps them get that precious breast milk. But you’ll notice baby sticking tongue out at 6 months of age from this habit will cease, and your baby will more likely stick her tongue out because she thinks it’s fun.
- She’s telling you she’s full or hungry
When I first became a mama, I thought babies only cried to tell us what they needed. But if you watch your baby closely, you will see she will have certain tells that reveal what she needs. Baby sticking her tongue out after feeding is one of them. She’s trying to tell you she’s full.
BUT! She will also do this when she’s hungry. Remember that crying is one of the latest signs of hunger for a baby. She does this out of frustration. “DANG IT! Where is my delicious milk?!? I’ve only been smacking my lips and sticking out my tongue for 5 whole minutes now! Worst. Service. Ever!”
- Your baby has a larger tongue
When I think of large tongues, I think of Gene Simmons from Kiss. A tongue that is larger than usual, though, is known medically as macroglossia. Babies with this condition tend to stick their tongue out more often than those with a normally-sized tongue.
This could be something of genetics, so if large tongues run in the family, that might be it. It may also be abnormal from blood vessel or muscle growth in your baby’s tongue. If you’ve noticed your baby’s tongue looks a bit larger than usual, you may want to have the pediatrician rule out anything else. Sometimes, a baby sticking their tongue out is Down syndrome related. It could also be Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a condition that causes certain organs to overgrow.
- Their mouth is small
Some babies just have smaller mouths. My mouth happens to be small, though just by design. It’s not overly small, but it’s small enough that when I go to the dentist, and they take X-rays and shove those awful things in your mouth, I have trouble fitting them. Geez, that’s the worst!
Anyway, Down syndrome is another reason for a small mouth, as are cleft lips, cleft palates, and plenty of others. Among them, DiGeorge syndrome, changes the shape of the palate and causes heart defects and developmental delay. So if you notice a lot of baby sticking tongue out and her mouth seems small (or her tongue seems large), definitely have it looked at to rule out something more serious.
- Their muscle tone isn’t as strong
It’s wild, but we all tend to forget that the tongue is a muscle. It is also controlled via the other muscles in the mouth. When there isn’t significant muscle detailing here, it can cause the tongue to stick out. Again, there are several conditions that I’ve mentioned above that could be related to a decreased level of muscle tone in the tongue. It’s something your pediatrician will look for when you bring your child in for a checkup.
- Baby is breathing through her mouth
We’re all designed, babies included, to breathe through the nose. But if your baby has some nasal congestion, she very well could breathe out her mouth and hence, stick her tongue out more.
A cold will go away, but if you notice that your baby often flares her nostrils, has trouble breathing, or makes wheezing sounds, you should not wait to have her examined. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids may be the cause if it’s not a cold so be sure to have your doctor take a look.
- It’s classic gas
Baby sticking tongue out for reflux or gas is another very common thing. Gas is normal for all of us, though babies have a more tender time with it as their digestive systems get up to speed. Some babies are easier than others. My youngest certainly was.
But my husband and I would laugh at the faces our eldest made. She looked like those comedy-tragedy masks from the theatre. Try burping her, holding her a bit more upright when you’re done nursing, too, when you notice a series of smiles, cries, grimaces, or even the tongue sticking out.
- Baby isn’t quite ready for solid foods
If the baby is sticking her tongue out 6 months of age when it’s generally time to start eating solids, it could be because she’s just not ready for it. The CDC and AAP recommend that babies have breastmilk for the first year (or baby formula) and around 6 months of age when they can sit up unassisted and start incorporating solid foods.
Even those these solids are pureed fruits and vegetables or even cereals; your baby might not be ready for the texture or taste of it. As such, she may stick her tongue out to push the food away or to get whatever she’s got in her mouth out. If you notice her sticking her tongue out when you’re trying to give her solids, wait a couple of weeks and try again.
What does sticking tongue out mean at different months of a baby’s life?
The main difference between the different months of age your baby moves through, and the matter of sticking out the tongue is instinct and intent. Basically, babies under 6 months of age usually do it out of instinct, though they can and will imitate you too.
Babies over 6 months of age are past the instinctive phase and will be doing it intentionally. For the many things I mentioned above, you generally have nothing to worry about.
But you’re a mama, as am I, so we worry. It’s what we know.
However, I do have something to put your mind at greater ease. Genetic differences tend to be the least likely reason your baby will stick out her tongue. In the majority of cases, it will be an instinctual reason or one of imitation.
In older babies, a baby sticking tongue out for teething might be the reason. If you notice all the other teething signs (you can read my post about that here), then it’s very likely the baby is just uncomfortable from that.
Is sticking tongue out a sign of autism?
Not in and of itself. For autism, there are other boxes to check with symptoms. Some show at infancy and up to 2 years. Your pediatrician will be able to make a proper evaluation but if you have concerns, definitely address them.
While it is true that children with autism do move in odd ways by tilting their head, sticking out their tongue, flexing hands, or opening their mouths, this is not a sole indicator of autism. Likewise, just because your child throws a tantrum, it does not mean she’s autistic.
Do down syndrome babies stick their tongue out?
Yes, they do but not in the same way that babies without this syndrome will stick their tongues out. Baby sticking tongue out to one side doesn’t mean anything more than that tongue reflex for feeding I discussed earlier.
But with Down syndrome and other syndromes, the tongue will usually protrude from your baby’s mouth. Thrusting the tongue is less likely to be a sign of a condition of any kind.
When should I worry?
Hahaha…I know, right? We always worry. But when should you worry about your baby sticking her tongue out?
Here’s the lowdown:
- If your baby shows other developmental differences
- If they change their behavior
- If they’ve had any type of head trauma
- If that tongue is always sticking out
- If they constantly drool more than from spitting up or teething alone
- If they have trouble swallowing
Other than that, try not to worry about the baby sticking out her tongue. Chances are she’s just doing it for fun, hunger, fullness, or gas. Now put those worries aside and enjoy all those sweet precious baby moments!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.