The sucking reflex

What you need to know about your baby’s sucking reflex

Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, it’s important to know about your babies sucking reflex. 

As your baby is still developing and growing in the womb so is your baby’s sucking reflex. 

At 32 weeks gestation your baby is starting to use their ability to suck and usually by 36 weeks your baby already recognises that sucking can help them settle and gives them comfort- yes even in the womb. 

Both the rooting and sucking reflex are present due to a very simple movement of the baby’s hand being directed towards the mouth and stimulating them. 

The sucking reflex is a learned reflex and babies get more proficient at it the more they do it, like any other action that is present. 

The more you do it the easier it becomes. This is no different for babies in the womb or newborns and as your baby grows and develops. 

Many mums have seen evidence of their baby’s sucking their thumbs in their last scans before their due date. 

This sucking reflex is very important for your baby. It keeps your baby alive because it needs to be present to feed. 

BUT and yes there is is a big BUT

This reflex is always there even when your baby isn’t hungry.

Because it’s an involuntary reflex they don’t have cognitive control over it. Their nervous system is reliant to help them feed when the reflex is stimulated by certain actions. 

These actions are the hand to mouth, stimulus of the roof of the babies mouth and the initiation of the rooting reflex. 

Now the confusion for most parents is what they are told about this sucking reflex. 

Most parents are advised that whenever they see their baby suck on their hands, their fingers or show the rooting reflex their baby must be hungry and needs feeding. 

This is not the case. 

Babies do know to stop feeding and the feeling of being full in conjunction with their involuntary reflexes. 
Their way of letting you know that they are full is by pulling away, sucking becomes more shallow, not swallowing and showing frustration and grizzling while feeding. 

But because the advice is feed whenever babies look hungry due to the sucking reflex mums will continue to latch baby even though they a fighting to let go of their latch and pulling away and nodding their head.

You then have a baby who will continue to suck because of the sucking reflex, get over full, windy and even more grumpy. 

This often is repeated time and time again. 

A vicious cycle starts to emerge. 

This will lead to babies not sleeping, feeding frequently, snacking and ultimately a baby being diagnosed with colic or reflux. 

The best advice that I can give any mum and to give their baby the best opportunity to feed well, sleep well and not to be diagnosed with colic or silent, generalised reflux. Is to be knowledgable and confident to know when their baby is sucking for hunger or simply for comfort in correlation to their involuntary sucking and rooting reflexes. 

If you need feeding and sleep advice please get in contact. 

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