Tongue chewing, this is one major cause of fear among parents especially when they don’t know what it represents. If you see your baby chewing his/her tongue, chances are you either freak-out and call your doctor or you laugh it off because it looks really cute. However, there is the third more logical option in which you do a little bit of research before deciding how to react to this new habit.
Before getting into the details, let me start by allaying your fears. Tongue chewing in most cases isn’t harmful to your child. It’s a perfectly normal developmental milestone among babies. In most cases, your baby’s tongue chewing habit is no cause for alarm.
However, in some rare cases, tongue chewing can become a troublesome habit and sometimes a warning sign to a more underlying problem. In this article, we would give you a brief explanation of both sides of the tongue chewing possibilities. It is important to note that this article can only offer general directions and is no substitute for a medical consultation. Nevertheless, having a reasonable amount of information would make it easier for your doctor to get a full picture of your baby’s habit.
Normal Reasons for Baby Tongue Chewing
As earlier stated, in most cases your baby’s tongue chewing isn’t a problem at all. The reason for your baby’s newfound habit can be one of the following:
1) Sucking Reflex
Sometimes what we as parents see as tongue chewing is a variant of our baby’s sucking motion. Babies always feel the urge to latch on to something and suck. This sucking reflex is very important to their feeding.
While not feeding, babies still want to suck something. At a young age i.e. few months old, they lack the coordination to lift their fingers to their mouth so they opt for the next best thing. Their tongue.
Apart from crying when extremely hungry, babies have other creative means to communicate their hunger. One example of this communication channel or baby language as some parents like to call it is to stick their tongue out. However, as babies stick their tongues out as a sign of hunger, they tend to get creative and start chewing their tongue.
If your baby chews his tongue close to his feeding time then you can rest easy.
3) Tongue Play
Babies are naturally curious and explorative. Give them a new toy and they would spend the next few minutes trying to understand what it’s really about. One healthy tip to stop your baby’s tantrum is to give him a safe objective that’s alien to him. More often than not, they stop crying and concentrate on the investigation of this new marvel.
At around the 4th month, babies come to the full realization of a very interesting mechanism in their mouth, the tongue. Like any other discovery, they spend a great deal of time trying to understand it. This involves a lot of probes, such as tongue chewing, spitting, raspberries and moving their tongue from side to side.
More often than not babies chew their tongue purely for explorative and entertainment purposes.
Of all the reasons for tongue chewing, teething is the most concrete. As babies begin to develop teeth, they try different ways to alleviate the pain. In time, they usually realize that pressure on the gum does just that. With nothing handy to apply pressure on they settle for their tongue and chew away.
Other signs of teething are drooling, crankiness, and swollen red gums. If you see any of these signs or actions then your child is most likely beginning to develop his teeth one tooth at a time.
When Does Tongue Chewing Become a Problem?
As we have established tongue chewing isn’t a big issue in itself. However, some babies carry this habit to its extreme, turning a simple fun activity into a source of pain and discomfort. In some cases, babies chew their tongue excessively especially when they are teething. This sometimes leads to sores on the tongue. Therefore, you must check your baby's mouth regularly for any swelling, sores or injuries.
Breathing Related Problems
Excessive tongue chewing might not be due to habit, but rather a symptom of an underlying health problem. Poor muscle tone and an oversized tongue are two situations that induce intense tongue chewing. This might require medical attention.
If your baby isn’t breathing smoothly as indicated by slow or rapid breathing rate, or a bluish tint around their mouth, do not hesitate to contact your doctor. Treat such symptoms as an emergency, there is a high probability that it is. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Eating Related Problems
In some cases, as babies keep chewing their tongue their oral development might get affected. A swollen or sore tongue can make eating difficult for your baby. Tongue chewing might cause improper development of your baby's jaw or stop their teeth from coming out. Apart from the pain and discomfort, this can slow down their oral development and negatively affect their food intake.
Strategies to Reduce Tongue Chewing.
Tongue chewing is usually a normal habit among babies. However, if you aren’t comfortable with your baby chewing his tongue or feel it’s becoming an excessive habit, there are a few steps you can take to curb it
- Feed your baby, regularly especially when they start chewing their tongue. This works best when your baby is chewing his tongue due to hunger.
- Distract your baby with a toy or some other activities. Most times baby chew their tongue when bored. The tongue is the most accessible toy for a baby, give them something more interesting to play with and their tongue play won’t seem so interesting anymore.
- Introduce solid foods and provide chew toys. As babies grow and start to develop their first set of teeth they tend to try out their new tools. Tongue, toys and even your nipple during breastfeeding are all fair game. To curb excessive tongue chewing it is advisable to get your baby a chew toy. Introducing solid foods is also a good way to go, provided your baby is old enough to handle it.
FAQ about Baby Chewing Tongue
At what age should my baby stop chewing his tongue?
Tongue chewing is most popular among babies between four to 6 months. However, in some rare cases, babies keep chewing their tongue well into toddlerhood. Beyond age 1, it is advisable to consult your doctor to ascertain why the habit persists. Provided that no harm or damage is done, there is no cause for alarm.
Are Chew toys safe?
Yes. Most chew toys are safe, as they go through a lot of regulations before entering the market space. But with childcare, you can never be too safe. Therefore, always keep an eye out and do adequate research before selecting a chew toy for your baby. A quick check-in with your doctor to confirm if a chew toy is safe is always advisable.
Check out our article on babies chewing on cribs which is also a common issue.
Babies chewing their tongue occasionally isn’t a problem. It is just downright cute to watch. However, excessive tongue chewing can lead to some serious issues for your baby.
By taking some of our recommended steps, you should be able to limit the rate at which your baby chews his tongue. In situations whereby the habit persists or complications develop, ensure to check-in with your doctor.