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Your Baby Sucks... & that is a Good Thing

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

The Sucking Reflex helps your baby survive until they can initiate feeding on their own.


Why your baby sucks


All babies are born with the Sucking Reflex. So all babies suck, really, not just yours. It is one of many that develop before your baby is born. These early reflexes are called primitive reflexes. They are the pre-loaded software in your babies brain that tells your baby’s body what to do before they learn to operate their body in order to survive. They are involuntary reactions to sounds or touch that are intended to be replaced by learned intentional behaviors.



What are Primitive Reflexes?


There are a lot of primitive reflexes that help your baby function in the world until they can get control of their bag of bones. Reflexes that relate to eating are the Rooting, Sucking, and Babkin reflexes. The Plantar and Stepping reflexes get your baby moving. The Palmer Grasp will allow your baby to hold onto things before they know how to do it themselves. There are many reflexes that will help you baby learn to coordinate their body such as Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex, Symmetric Tonic Neck Reflex, Spinal Galant Reflex, and Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex. The Fear Paralysis and Moro Reflexes help develop your baby's stress and emotional regulation, as well as involuntary movements to protect them from perceived threats.



What is the Sucking Reflex?


In an earlier post, we covered the Rooting Reflex where you learned that this reflex helps your baby find its source of food from the breast or bottle. The Rooting Reflex opens your baby's mouth when their cheek or corner of their mouth is stimulated. However, the opening of the mouth to receive food is only half of the process of eating. In order for your baby to get the food in their belly, they need to be able to suck the liquid into their mouth to drink. This is where the Sucking Reflex comes in. This reflex allows your baby to eat by temporarily stopping breathing so that the food doesn’t end up in their lungs.




Life Long Issues associated with a Retained Sucking Reflex?


This reflex should disappear at 2 months of age. "The Sucking Reflex causes the infant to push the tongue forward to suck milk from breast or bottle."[1] Because of this, the tongue can wreak havoc on your child's choppers causing their front teeth to be pushed out and develop an overbite. Many of the related issues of an active Sucking Reflex affects your baby's ability to speak clearly. In addition, it can create difficulties with their ability to use their hands especially when talking. You might have seen a child stick out their tongue while coloring or using scissors, this is a tell-tale sign that this reflex hasn’t gone away.



How to test for a Lingering Sucking Reflex?


You can test for this reflex after 2 months by placing your pinky in your baby’s mouth and touch the roof of their mouth. If they start sucking on it, this reflex is lingering.




What you can do if your baby's Sucking Reflex remains active


Awareness is the first step in prevention. Now that you know a retained sucking reflex can cause issues, you can regularly test for this reflexes. By monitoring, you can tell if the Sucking Reflex is still active. If so, make an appointment with your pediatrician. If they determine that your baby has any lingering reflexes, they will give you a referral to a specialist. Then meet with a pediatric occupational therapist or speech therapist depending on their needs. Early intervention is the most valuable thing that you can do to help your baby.



Sources:

  1. "Symptoms of Retained Neonatal Reflexes", Neurobalance Chiropractic, http://www.neurobalancechiropractic.com.au/symptoms-of-retained-neonatal-reflexes/


 

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