Newborns are born to suck
If you feel like your newborn wants to suck all the time, you’re not alone. Truth be told, in the first few months, babies have a strong drive to suck. In fact, their survival depends on this very important skill.
Newborn babies are born with one eating skill: a reflex to suck
Sucking is a huge priority for newborn babies because it’
s how they receive nourishment to grow and thrive. There are a number of reflexes that work together to make sure baby gets the liquid nutrition he needs. Let’
s take a look.
- Rooting: If you place your newborn on your chest he may start to move his head looking for food. This is an early hunger stage where babies "root" to find the food source. This reflex can be seen by stroking near or at the mouth, causing baby’s mouth to open.
- Suck/Swallow: Once your newborn latches on to the breast or nipple, he’ll begin sucking, drawing milk from the breast or bottle into the mouth. The tongue then moves the liquid towards the back of the mouth so he can swallow it.
- Tongue thrust: From birth to roughly 4 to 6 months, the tongue naturally pushes out whenever baby’s mouth is touched. This works well for breast or bottle-feeding, but not for feeding from a spoon or cup. This reflex settles down over time, allowing baby to eat food from a spoon when he’s ready.
- Gag reflex: As a defense against choking, babies gag when an object goes into the back of their mouth, such as a spoon or piece of food. The area that triggers the gag reflex moves from the middle part of the tongue to the back sometime between 3 to 7 months, which is another reason to wait before starting solids.
Something else to think about is the small size of a newborn baby’s mouth. If you look inside, you’ll see that his tongue takes up most of the space. As baby grows, his jaw will also grow down and out, making more room to take in and eat pureed foods. Also, a young infant’s mouth is not really able to move in an "up and down” motion.
Bottom line: Newborn babies’ small mouths are only able to handle liquids (breastmilk or formula) from the nipple or bottle. There's simply no room or developmental ability for much else.
Reading newborn baby’s hunger and fullness cues
Understanding the way your newborn baby's mouth develops can help you know when he’s hungry or full. In the first month, rooting or fist sucking are early signs of hunger while crying is a later stage. This is important to know for breastfeeding because it’s often easier for baby to latch onto the nipple before he starts crying from hunger.
How do you know they’ve had enough? Babies who cry after feedings are probably still hungry. Falling asleep or falling off the nipple are signs of fullness. When bottle feeding, try not to push baby to finish all the breastmilk or formula in the bottle, which can lead to overfeeding.
Learning about how your baby grows and develops helps you stay in sync with him. And soon enough, his development will change, again, and you'll move onto the next stage of introducing solids.
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