As the excitement grows about several milestones newborns achieve, one curious behavior often catches every parent's attention: biting the tongue. It's easy to assume the baby is learning to use their tongue. However, there is a need for every parent to be observant to ensure the behavior does not become repetitive to the extent of causing harm. Children often bite their tongues for various reasons, including teething or the amusement of identifying a new organ. Biting of the tongue, however, should end if the child is over one year. This article further explores why babies chew their tongues, when to worry, and the various interventions parents can apply to stop the habit.
Is It Normal for My Baby to Chew on Their Tongue?
Tongue chewing is a common behavior among babies with most outgrowing this stage quickly without causing any harm. If your baby outgrows chewing their tongue in a few weeks, there is no cause for alarm. While it may be a normal behavior it is also essential to note that if the chewing progresses for a prolonged period and causes distress, then it is best to assess if there are any inflicted injuries. Additionally, you can worry about a child's tongue-chewing habit if:
- The habit becomes harmful and lasts for a longer period
- It prevents them from eating
- They experience breathing difficulties due to the tongue-chewing
- They bite their tongue with excess force
- There are injuries on the tongue or bleeding
Reasons why your Baby is Chewing their Tongue
If you are worried about why your baby is chewing their tongue, it is essential to note that it is common among babies, especially when teething. However, it can easily become a body-focused repetitive behavior if not controlled, especially after they are over a year old. If not contained, the child can suffer injuries from biting their tongue frequently, resulting in difficulties when eating, drinking, or talking. Here are some common reasons why your baby is biting their tongue.
Discovery of the Tongue
Some milestones your baby will go through include discovering various parts of their body, including the tongue. Therefore, sometimes, they may chew their tongue for the amusement of learning something new. They may move their tongue frequently and chew it to explore its usage.
Aside from crying, babies also express themselves in various ways. When they are hungry, they might show this by chewing their tongue. After weaning your baby, they may start associating food with chewing and may often chew their tongue to indicate hunger. Moreover, finger sucking, lip biting, or smacking may also be a sign of hunger. All these indications can easily result in tongue biting.
Reflexes in babies play various roles, including protection. Such types of reflexes include the extrusion and instinctual reflex that cause them to stick out their tongue or make a sucking motion, especially when they are hungry. The reflexes also help them respond to any activity around their mouth. For example, if they come into contact with a pacifier or a spoon, the normal reaction is sticking out or chewing their tongue. The extrusion reflex offers protection since babies can use their tongues when choking. However, these reflexes disappear when the baby is ready to wean.
Teething is usually an uncomfortable milestone for most babies. They may experience discomfort and even pain in their gums. They may chew on their fingers or anything soft to relieve discomfort, and the tongue offers the best relief due to its softness. If your baby is chewing their tongue during teething, it will be easier to notice signs such as swollen gums and excessive drooling. Among the best ways to relieve pressure on the gums is offering your baby a teething toy.
Various orofacial anomalies predispose your baby to tongue chewing, as they may cause a change in the tongue's shape or position. These anomalies include Beckwith-Wiedmann syndrome, which results in an abnormally large tongue that can easily slip between the teeth. Such anomalies also cause involuntary tongue chewing since the child cannot control the tongue motions.
Tips To Prevent Your Baby from Chewing their Tongue
You can help avoid tongue biting habit from becoming a harmless habit or exceeding the required duration in various ways. Some of the techniques include:
Prepare Teething-Friendly Food
Most babies experience discomfort and pain in their gum during teething. Therefore, preparing meals with a satisfactory texture that soothes the gums is necessary. Some healthy teething foods you can give your baby include a mango seed or carrot. To help with the inflammation, you can refrigerate them first. Refrigerating also gives them a cool feel, which is also a good way to soothe the inflamed gums.
Introduce Solid Foods
If your baby is at the weaning stage, then it is best to introduce solid foods to help them master the usage of their tongue without chewing on it. Additionally, since chewing on the tongue may be a sign of hunger, introducing solid foods can end the habit. Babies may also stop chewing on the tongue during weaning since they feel satisfied after eating solid foods. Noteworthy, before introducing any solid foods, it is best to consult a pediatrician to ensure you make an informed decision on the baby’s feeding program. It is also essential to have a feeding schedule so that the baby does not stay hungry for a long period.
Satisfy Their Need to Suck
Babies are usually born with a natural urge to suck, and thus, to prevent them from sucking and chewing their tongue, you can find items such as pacifiers. Moreover, you can introduce teething toys to help relieve the pressure on the gums. Refrigerating these toys is more effective since it gives them a cooling effect. Such toys not only satisfy the urge to suck but also distracts them from continuously biting the tongue.
While chewing the tongue for babies is a normal and harmless habit, it becomes a problem when they do it for an extended period. It can be a sign of a milestone yet to be achieved or an indication that the child is dealing with a body-focused repetitive behavior. Whichever the case, it is best to be on the lookout to ensure your baby is safe from self-inflicted injuries. If you think the habit is affecting your child, you can watch out for symptoms such as bleeding, injuries on the tongue, and difficulty in eating and breathing. Babies usually chew their tongues for amusement, but it is best to seek professional assistance if it is becoming a prolonged habit.