Sucking Reflex in Babies – When Does it Develop?

4 min read

Written by Aparna Hari

Aparna Hari

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.

sucking reflex in babies

Babies are born with some basic survival skills that help them to cope with the new environment outside the mother’s womb. For instance, the cry of a baby is so shrill that it sometimes pains the ears. But it is important because otherwise, you will not wake at midnight to feed them. Sucking reflex in babies is one of such survival skills essential for the baby’s nutritional intake. Your baby will learn this reflex while inside your womb.

It is this sucking reflex that helps the baby suck the milk from your breasts or the nursing bottle. Generally sucking reflex shows up first from the 32 weeks and fully develops in the 36th week of pregnancy. So premature babies can find it difficult to show this reflex. As the sucking reflex is vital for your baby’s growth you must know all about it. Here is all you need to know about the sucking reflex and how to develop it in premature babies.

In This Article

What is a Sucking Reflex in Babies?

A sucking reflex is an involuntary spontaneous movement of the mouth and tongue of a baby when it is touched or stimulated. It is due to the sucking reflex you can see your baby sucking the finger if you put it on the upper lip of the baby. So, to feed your baby you will just have to put the nipple on the top of the baby’s upper lip and the baby will begin sucking it due to the sucking reflex.

The Sucking reflex comes directly after the rooting reflex. The rooting reflex helps the baby to search for the source of the food and the sucking reflex helps to suck that food. Breastfeeding is not possible without a sucking reflex.

When Does Sucking Reflex in Babies Develop?

mother checking sucking reflex

The sucking reflex starts when your baby is still inside your womb. Early signs of sucking reflex can show up from the 32nd week of pregnancy. But it takes time to fully develop this reflex. And by the end of the 36th week, your baby will become an expert in sucking reflex. You can even see your baby sucking the thumb or hands during the ultrasound session during this time.

[Read : Breastfeeding Your Baby- How to Get Started]

Sucking Reflex and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding entirely depends on the sucking reflex. When you put the nipple of your breast or bottle on top of the baby’s lip, they will start sucking it automatically. Babies put their lips on the areola section and squeeze the nipple with the help of their tongue and the top of the mouth. This continuous sucking creates a suction or latch due to negative pressure.

The baby will occasionally move its tongue around the nipple to express some more milk. The more your baby suck milk the more it will be produced in your breasts.

Premature Babies and Sucking Problems

feeding tube on a premature baby

Premature babies can show difficulty sucking milk because their sucking reflex is not fully developed. They cannot endure the struggle of continuous breastfeeding at first. It depends on how premature the baby is. Some premature babies can swallow the milk if it is fed through a spoon instead of a bottle.

And some may need the help of a feeding tube to get nutrition. It can take a few weeks for a premature baby to learn how to suck and swallow at the same time. But generally, the baby will learn it by the time of his/her actual due date.

How to Initiate Sucking Reflex in Babies?

To Initiate the Sucking Reflex in Babies You Can Try Some Methods Like:

  • Keep your baby close to your body. Your motherly embrace will help increase your milk flow. And if the milk flow increases then it will get much easier for, your baby to suck it and fill the empty tummy quickly.
  • For premature babies with weak suck, you can soak a cotton ball with your breast milk and put it close to the baby’s nose. By doing this the baby will get familiar with the smell of milk. Gradually the baby will try to find the source of the milk and taste it.

Difference Between Sucking Reflex Vs. Rooting Reflex

Once your baby gets fully habituated to the Breastfeeding process you will notice another reflex called the rooting reflex. Your baby will rub the face on your breasts whenever hungry. The rooting reflex helps the baby to search for the source of food. The sucking reflex and rooting reflex are distinct from each other, but they work simultaneously. The rooting reflex helps the baby to find the nipple even in a half wake condition and the sucking reflex helps to extract milk from the nipple.

The sucking reflex in babies is one of the primary skills essential for growth and survival. Almost all full terms babies are born with this reflex. Your baby will depend on the sucking reflex for breastfeeding. So, you must talk to the pediatrician if your baby is not showing this reflex properly.


1. How Can I Improve My Baby’s Sucking Reflex?

You will have to try continuously to put the nipple on your baby’s upper lip so that your baby opens the mouth to grab it. Do not lose hope. Your baby will eventually learn it.

2. How Can I Help My Baby With a Weak Suck?

Use a cushion to uplift your baby near you while breastfeeding. Put the entire nipple inside the baby’s mouth to let your baby get a hold of it.

Read Also: Let Down Reflex And Breastfeeding

Aparna Hari,MBA in Marketing,P.G. Diploma in Human Resource Management from IGNOU Bachelor of Sciences (Home Science) from Nagarjuna University

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.Read more.

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