That mess on your little one’s face is due to a tongue thrust, an immature way of swallowing that your baby should outgrow quickly.
Babies are notoriously sloppy eaters. In the beginning, a reverse swallow pattern—called a tongue thrust—is often the culprit. A tongue thrust is actually a protective reflex that babies are born with to help prevent them from choking. Instead of moving their tongue to the back of the mouth, they push it forward against their gums when they swallow. When babies first begin eating food (especially if they start solids early), they often still have a tongue thrust, so their tongue instinctively pushes some of the food out as they swallow.
Although messy, tongue thrust is completely normal at first. It should resolve naturally by around 6 months old, as babies figure out how to use their tongues to move food to the back of the throat to swallow. If it persists past this age, prolonged sucking (on a pacifier or thumb, for instance) could possibly be to blame.
Even after your baby outgrows a tongue thrust, don’t expect an end to all messes—it will be years before your baby learns to eat with manners!
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019