From the first words to the first steps, your baby’s early milestones are exciting and joyful. But before you add "eating solid foods" to your milestone memory book, you should be aware of extrusion reflex, a natural response where a baby spits out solid food. Read on to learn about extrusion reflex in infants and the basics of starting on solid foods.
Extrusion Reflex: Why Your Baby Is Spitting Out Solids
For the first four to six months of life, your baby is more than content to consume breast milk or formula. After all, both have everything they need to grow during those crucial first months. As your child develops (and with your pediatrician's guidance), you might feel ready to offer your baby solids around six months of age. But you might find that when you try to give them a spoonful of solid food, they push it right back out. You're left with a mess and wondering if your baby is a picky eater.
When your baby pushes solid food out of their mouth using their tongue, it's called the extrusion reflex (it’s also referred to as tongue-thrust reflex). While it may seem discouraging that your baby doesn’t want to try new textures, this reflex is a primitive instinct to protect them. Since their body is still developing, the extrusion reflex protects them from choking on or aspirating foreign objects in the first few months of life. That way, if something accidentally enters your baby's mouth, the reflex would push it right back out again. The tongue-thrust motion ensures that breast milk or formula are the only things going into your baby's tummy. The reflex won't work on the breast or bottle, but they might engage it when you offer a spoonful of solids.
You can check to see if your baby demonstrates signs that they’re ready for solid foods, specifically by checking on the extrusion reflex. To check, place your finger on your baby’s lips and see if they push at the finger with their tongue. If they push on your finger with their tongue, they may not be ready for solid foods as their reflex may still be in place.
Talk to your baby's pediatrician before you begin feeding them solids. The CDC advises waiting until your little one is at least six months old before introducing solid foods as part of their diet. Still, even if you get the OK from your doctor, your baby might continue to push food out of their mouth. It doesn't mean they’re not a fan of baby food, but that their tongue extrusion reflex is still there. There's no harm in waiting a few more days and trying again later. As your baby gets a little older, the reflex will gradually diminish when they’re ready for solids.
Starting solids is the ideal time to solidify a regular infant oral care routine. You can use a piece of gauze to rub your baby's gums or brush food particles away using a gentle infant toothbrush. Even if your baby's trademark gummy smile doesn't yet showcase teeth, an oral care routine is an integral part of their overall health.
What might seem like picky eating is actually a natural developmental response you might not have considered. The extrusion reflex in babies helps keep your baby safe by expelling food until they’re truly ready to start solids. Watch your baby as they experience food, and use the reflex as a way to gauge readiness before you check "first solids" off on your milestone checklist. And in the meantime, enjoy all of their other beautiful first milestones!
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.