Tongue Thrust Reflex: Is Your Baby in Danger?


Unpopular among your peers, this murky term might catch you off guard if you come across it out of the blue. Commonly left undiagnosed, tongue thrust reflex is a real deal and might even lead to many orthodontic problems.

As your baby’s body is developing, you might come to notice that their tongue pushes back anything that you try to push in! This is known as extrusion reflex, which is a type of tongue reflex commonly seen in newborns and can persist until the child is a few months old. This type of reflex should be looked after for a few months after the child is born as their muscles aren’t fully developed yet, meaning that they cannot swallow solid foods but can only eat liquids. If you want to test it, pretend that you are feeding them by giving them an empty spoon. You can make sure that the utensil is clean and can also add some baby cereal with formula. If you see that the baby rejects the food by thrusting its tongue forward then the reflex is still present. When the baby swallows something, the tongue jerks forward leading to the head’s protrusion.

While it’s a normal part of a baby’s development, in some case tongue thrust persists and may stay for a few years up until childhood, this should be avoided as it can lead to misalignment of tooths and speech development.

What Is Tongue Thrust Reflex?

In infants, it is observed that the reflex is stimulated due to the tip of the tongue touching the utensil, leading to the tongue jerking, or thrusting forward and out of the mouth. This reflex should be looked after in infants as they can only swallow liquid foods and not solids. This reflex is common among babies and can be present even when they are a few months old. This reflex is common with infants as it is a protective reflex, it helps lessen the risk of your babies choking on something. The reflex protects newborns from solids and other foreign objects while also helping them latch onto the nipple.

The tongue thrust reflex and the sucking reflex work together, as the sucking reflex allows a baby to suck the breast milk out of the nipple or formula from a baby bottle.

Why Do Babies Have Extrusion/Thrust Reflex?

It is common among infants to have several reflexes, as they help newborns survive in the real world. One of these reflexes is the tongue thrust reflex, which causes the baby’s tongue to push forward when it is touched or depressed in any way.

The extrusion reflex is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps babies to protect their airways. When a baby is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, the extrusion reflex helps to prevent milk or formula from going down the wrong way. The reflex also helps to protect babies from choking on solid foods when they start eating them.

When Is Tongue Thrust Reflex Present In Babies? 

It is not fully clear exactly when the reflex first develops, it is seen that it is present in every newborn and is seen to persist till the baby is a couple of months old. It is a primitive reflex that helps in feeding the newborn in its infancy.

It is a reflex action where a baby’s tongue automatically moves forward when something is placed in the baby’s mouth, such as a nipple or a spoon. This reflex is necessary for breastfeeding and bottle-feeding in the early months of a baby’s life. In some cases, it is observed that a child may still have this reflex until they are a year old, but no worries, as your baby’s oral motor skills develop and they begin to eat solid foods, the reflex will gradually disappear.

It is important to note that the presence or absence of the extrusion reflex is not always an indicator of any underlying issues with a baby’s oral motor development. However, in case of abnormal tongue thrust when the reflex persists beyond the age of 6-12 months, it may indicate a developmental issue that requires assessment by a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist at least by the family doctor.

When Does Tongue Thrust Reflex Go Away?

The tongue thrust reflex disappears on its own as the baby’s muscles mature and they learn to chew and swallow more effectively and start solids food intake. This reflex is essential for breastfeeding. When a baby is breastfeeding, the tongue helps to create a seal around the nipple, which helps to prevent milk from leaking out. The tongue also helps to move milk from the breast to the back of the baby’s throat, where it can be swallowed.

However, in some cases, the tongue thrust reflex may persist beyond 7 months. Tongue thrusting can lead to speech problems, problems with eating, and teeth issues. The reflex is triggered when the tip of the tongue touches something. In response, the tongue thrusts forward to push the foreign object out of the mouth. This reflex helps babies avoid choking by preventing them from swallowing large pieces of food they cannot yet chew properly.

If your child’s tongue thrust still persists then talk to your family doctor. They can assess your child’s development and recommend treatment options if necessary.

What Is Its Relation With Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)?

When it comes to baby-led weaning (BLW), it’s important to be aware of the presence of the extrusion reflex as it can impact a baby’s ability to eat solid foods. Another way to tell if your baby is ready for solid food is by seeing if they can hold their head up by themselves, sit up in a high chair, and show their interest in solid food. If not, then you should only feed them liquids and not solids.

To manage the extrusion reflex during BLW, start with soft, easy-to-swallow foods – When introducing solid foods to your baby, start with soft, mashed, or pureed foods that are easy to swallow and won’t trigger the reflex as much, offer a variety of textures, allow your baby to explore and last but not least, be prepared for a mess!

But remember that all newborns are different, and some may have more difficulty developing feeding skills than others. If you have concerns about your baby’s feeding abilities or the presence of the extrusion reflex, speaking with a healthcare professional such as a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist for guidance and support is always better.

How Is Tongue Thrust Diagnosed?

Tongue Thrust Diagnosed

Tongue thrust is normal in young babies and infants, but it typically disappears by the age of 6 months to 1 year. However, if it persists beyond this age or causes issues with feeding or speech, it may require further evaluation by a healthcare professional or speech therapist. Following are some ways that tongue thrust can be diagnosed in babies:

Observation: A healthcare professional such as a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist can observe the baby’s feeding and swallowing behaviors to see if there are any signs of tongue thrust.

Oral Exam: A healthcare professional can perform an oral exam to assess the baby’s oral structures and muscle tone. They may look for signs such as a tongue tie or misaligned teeth that could be indicative of tongue thrust.

Swallowing Evaluation: It may be performed to assess the baby’s swallowing ability and identify any issues that could be related to tongue thrust.

Imaging Studies: In some cases, imaging studies such as an ultrasound or video fluoroscopy may be used to visualize the baby’s swallowing mechanism and identify any abnormalities or difficulties.

If the tongue thrust reflex is the suspected reason, consult with a healthcare professional as they can provide you with a diagnosis and a treatment plan. If the problem is caught early on, long-term complications can be avoided and we can improve overall feeding and speech abilities.

Can Tongue Thrust Persist in Adults?

Tongue thrust can persist in some adults. Tongue thrust, also known as orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), is a condition where you might notice your tongue resting in the wrong position, prolonged sucking, open resting lips, and difficulty in chewing food, the tongue pushes forward against the teeth during speaking, or at rest.

In some cases, tongue thrust may persist from childhood or develop in adulthood due to certain medical conditions or habits such as thumb sucking, nail biting, or feeling mouth breathing easier. Other contributing factors may include dental issues or jaw misalignment.

If left untreated, tongue thrust can lead to problems such as speech difficulties, dental issues, and even facial changes over time. Therefore, it’s important for adults with tongue thrust to seek treatment from a speech-language pathologist or orofacial myofunctional therapist.

Treatment for tongue thrust in adults typically involves retraining the tongue and oral muscles through exercises, habit correction, and behavior modification. This may include exercises to strengthen the tongue or oral muscles and strategies to promote proper tongue positioning and swallowing patterns.

If you or someone you know suspects they have a persistent tongue thrust as an adult, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and appropriate treatment plan.

How Can Tongue Thrust Be Treated?

Tongue thrust, also known as orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), is a condition in which any object that touches the tip of the tongue is thrown out of the mouth by the tongue jerking or thrusting forward. Treatment for tongue thrust typically involves retraining the tongue and oral muscles through exercises, habit correction, and behavior modification.

Some common treatments for tongue thrust are:

Myofunctional Therapy

Myofunctional therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the coordination and strengthening of the muscles of the tongue, lips, and face. A trained therapist can guide the patient through tongue thrust exercises to help them learn how to position their tongue correctly, swallow properly, and breathe through their nose.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy can help treat tongue thrust because it can help the patient learn how to produce certain sounds correctly and improve their overall speech clarity.

Dental Intervention

In some cases, tongue thrust may be caused by dental issues such as an open bite or malocclusion. In these cases, orthodontic treatment or other dental interventions may be necessary to correct the underlying issue.

Behavioral Modification

Behavioral modification techniques may be used to help the patient develop new habits and break old ones. This may include strategies such as reminders to keep the lips closed, avoiding certain foods or drinks, or using a mouth guard to prevent tongue thrust while sleeping.

Keep in mind that the treatment for tongue thrust may vary depending on the individual case and underlying causes. A healthcare professional such as a speech-language pathologist or orofacial myofunctional therapist can provide a proper evaluation and develop a personalized treatment plan based on the patient’s needs.

When Should You Be Worried About It?

Tongue-thrust reflex is a normal reflex that babies have, but it typically disappears as babies grow up. However, if it is observed that the reflex is still present and develops beyond childhood then it is a cause for concern. Here are some signs that may indicate the need for future treatments:

Difficulty with feeding or swallowing: If a child or adult has difficulty eating or swallowing due to tongue thrust, this can lead to issues such as choking, aspiration, or malnutrition.

Speech difficulties: Tongue thrust can interfere with speech clarity and lead to difficulty with certain sounds, such as “s,” “z,” or “th.”

Dental issues: Long-term tongue thrust can cause dental problems such as an open bite, misaligned teeth, or gum recession.

Facial changes: Prolonged tongue thrust can also cause changes in the facial structure, such as an elongated face, prominent chin, or other facial asymmetries.

If your child exhibits any of these signs, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional such as a speech language pathologist or orofacial myofunctional therapist for an evaluation and appropriate treatment plan.


The tongue thrust reflex, also referred to as the extrusion reflex, is usually present at birth and disappears by the time a baby is 6 months old. However, in some cases, the reflex can persist beyond this age. This can lead to speech problems, eating, and nasal congestion.

This reflex is normal in babies, and it causes them to push food out or liquid that is placed on their tongue. It typically disappears as they are 6 months to 1 year old, as babies develop more advanced feeding skills and learn to coordinate their oral muscles. Some children might experience this reflex way beyond 6 months of age, which might be a bit concerning for parents. If you’ve noticed that your baby has trouble speaking or swallowing, try contacting a speech therapist or a healthcare professional to help your little one deal with this.

Stephanie Edenburgh

I'm Steph, a mom to 3 beautiful children and lover all things having to do with my family and being a mom. I've learned a lot raising my own children and working in education and healthcare roles throughout my career. Living in beautiful Southern California I enjoy documenting and writing about all of the hard work us mom's do on a daily basis.

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