Tongue Movement Patterns for Feeding

If only every pediatrician knew what feeding and myofunctional therapist know… that the tongue’s ability to function without compensating is SO important to sucking, swallowing, feeding, jaw, and facial development! It is an essential part of the eating process. 

Unfortunately, our patients have all kinds of myths thrown at them when they bring up their feeding/tongue tie concerns to their pediatricians like “it’s only a slight tie,” “there is no such thing as a tongue tie, it’s a fad,” “it only matters if you want to nurse,” “they’ll outgrow it.” (ugh!)

When parents come to us, not only should we be prepared to validate their feelings that if they are concerned, we are concerned too and will therefore conduct a quick screening or full evaluation at their request, but also be prepared to educate the parent in the process.  

The tongue tends to be the star of the show and many times it is also what opens the conversation with many parents around feeding. Let’s discuss the milestones that we should be assessing for tongue movement.

As soon as a baby is born, they should be able to cup the tongue. This is a reflex where the tongue lifts up and cups forward on the ridge of the gumline. Usually this lasts until around 3 months when the reflexive patterns of protrusion and retraction should begin. 

Protrusion is a primitive movement where the tongue extends between the gums, remaining flat. (In older populations, this is known as a tongue thrust.) We also see a rhythmic pattern of protrusion and retraction when babies are suckling. No lateralization is seen here. This typically occurs between the ages of 3-6 months

Around 6 months, we begin to see the tongue lateralize. Tongue lateralization is when the tongue moves horizontally to either side. This movement helps to manage food in the oral cavity, shifting it from side to side and eventually allowing enough movement to be able to clean the lips, palate, and cheeks after eating. Sweeping food from lips is the next milestone to look for as the tongue develops more mature movement patterns. It occurs around 18-24 months. 

Around 24-36 months, we will see tongue tip elevation during the swallow. The front portion of the tongue raises to contact the alveolar ridge. This movement is critical and important as it indicates separation of tongue and jaw movements.

Now that you can identify tongue developmental movement patterns, we want to connect you with our FREE pediatric feeding screening packet to get you started screening for pediatric feeding delays. Download our Pediatric Feeding Screening Packet today! 


Join Hallie for the 5-Day FREE Training April 29 to May 3, 2024 and get 5 hours on a certificate of completion:

Download your Free Screening Packet here:

Pediatric feeding screenings are critical! All pediatric SLPs & OTs should know how to screen, even if you don’t work in ped feeding! 

If a child has a speech sound disorder and/or sensory feeding challenges there’s likely an oral motor deficit at play. We need to screen all of our pediatric patients to know if further evaluation is needed. Afterall, if additional services are needed, it’s our job to provide them and help our littlest patients function optimally! 

If you’re an SLP or OT (students welcome, too!), join Hallie and thousands of your SLP & OT colleagues for a FREE 5-day training and screen your first pediatric feeding patient. Over 23,017+ SLPs & OTs have already completed this free training. Now it’s YOUR TURN! 

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Free training April 29 – May 3, 2024: Hallie will bring the patients!
  • 5 Hours on a certificate of completion to count toward your renewal hours.
  • Opportunity to earn 1 of 5 Full Scholarships  [2 needs based] to the 12-week Feed The Peds® course
  • A free pediatric feeding screening packet.

Inside the free screening packet, you’ll find:

  • A pediatric development chart from birth to 36 months of age 
  • A checklist with the 50 most common symptoms 
  • A chart to easily organize findings & determine if further assessment is needed
  • A referral form to easily refer patients to other specialists, when needed

Doors to Feed The Peds® [the 12-week course] will open May 6 – 10, 2024!

Bonus: enroll in the 12 week course and you’ll get the 5 hours from the free training for official ASHA and AOTA CEUs!