Sucking: How Do Babies Actually Do This?

By Marina Macleod

April 24, 2019

Marina is a Registered Nurse with over 14 yrs of experience, a Mama Coach in Calgary, AB and area and a Mama to 2! She offers prenatal education, newborn and post-partum support, lactation counseling, infant & child CPR/Choking workshops, as well as sleep education programs based on science, empathy & support.

Sucking behavior actually happens quite early on. The suck reflex can be displayed by a fetus at just 24 weeks gestation! In this article I will briefly go over a babies suck and what is involved. For babies to be able to transfer milk from moms breast to their little bellies it will take some practice for both mom and babe. From the latch to the swallow, there are several variables that go into it.

Latch

Babe’s latch is really the key to the whole process. A good latch will mean that babies mouth, tongue and body as well as moms nipple and breast are in the right position. The baby will need to open their mouth wide enough to allow the tongue to protrude forward, past the gum ridge and then take a big mouthful of the breast. Babies do not nipple feed, they breastfeed, which means that they need to have more than just the tip of the nipple in their mouth to transfer milk effectively. The babies tongue, lips and cheeks will form a seal on moms breast tissue and their lips should be flanged outward. When latched properly, there should be no pain or uncomfortable sensations. Some signs that your latch might need to be assessed are: if it hurts, you hear a “clicking” sound when babe is drinking, babe is making a “slurping” sound, babies cheeks are drawn in or dimpled while feeding or when baby comes off your nipple is in a “lipstick” shape not nicely rounded.

 

Suckling

The transfer of milk is done by the wave like movement of the babies tongue from tip to back, this in coordination with jaw movements causes a sealed oral cavity around the nipple and compression/release of the breast tissue to draw out and eject milk through the nipple. The milk will flow from high pressure (the breast) to low pressure (the babes mouth). The tip of the babies tongue should remain over their lower gum, this will help protect the breast tissue from damage by being caught repeatedly between the upper and lower gums during sucking. It is important to note that moms nipple will elongate during this process by the suction created, it will be drawn deep into the back of the babies mouth. This will allow for good position of the nipple for milk transfer to babies esophagus.

Rhythm

The movement of the baby lowering and elevating their jaw and the wave like movement of the tongue causes a rhythm to form. This will often appear as a suck, suck, swallow pattern. The baby will pause shortly after 2 or three big sucks to swallow the milk and then continue sucking. You should be able to hear and see these swallows. When babes jaw stops making big open movements and you don’t see the big sucks and swallows they are likely moving into flutter sucking or “comfort sucking”. At the end of a feeding, some babies will come off the breast on their own, others will become very drowsy. Try not to watch the clock when breast feeding and instead watch for effective feeds and signs that your baby is satiated.

Tongue ties, prematurity and oral anatomy are just a few things that can affect a latch and the ability to suck effectively. There are therapies such as suck training that can be beneficial. If you are struggling or not able to meet your breastfeeding goals, support from a professional is available.

 

If you are having difficulty or need support reach out to a Mama Coach or lactation professional in your area.

 

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