Posted on  December 27, 2022

In simple terms, sucking reflex happens when the roof of a baby’s mouth is touched. Your baby doesn’t even have to think about it, as it occurs naturally.

However, please note that this reflex MAY be stronger in some babies and weaker in others – depending on few factors including how early the baby was born.


What happens during the sucking reflex?

While this may all sound easy, the reflex occurs in two steps.

Step 1: The aby holds the nipple (either the breast or the bottle) is placed in the baby’s mouth, the baby holds it between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. This will allow the baby to automatically begin to suck by moving the tongue up and down. This is similar both breastfeeding and bottlefeeding – it is the same mechanism.

Step 2: When the baby moves their tongue to the nipple to suck, it essentially milks the breast – this is also called ‘expression’. The suction helps keep the breast in the baby’s mouth.

When does it develop?

This reflex develops when your baby is still in the womb. The earliest is in 32 weeks of pregnancy and fully developed by week 36 of pregnancy.

Some parents get to see this reflex during a routine ultrasound – where babies will suck their thumbs or hands, showing that this important ability is in the process of developing.

Breastfeeding & Sucking Reflex

Both newborns and premature babies find it challenging to breath and swallow while sucking. Therefore, not all babies are pros – not at least at the first. Just like new mothers getting used to the breastfeeding, the babies also take time and practice to master this task.

Some babies find it difficult to latch on for breastfeeding because it is not just the nipple that needs to go into your baby’s mouth. If it has not reached far enough to touch the roof of the mouth, it does not trigger or stimulate the sucking reflex.

Few tips for new moms with breastfeeding challenges:

  • Seek help: The hospital nursing staffs, the lactation consultants or the midwives – they are trained to help you AND the newborn to establish a successful breastfeeding session – the hold, position, latch, and everything.
  • The latch: Ensure your baby not only takes the tip of the nipple, but also the areola to his mouth as he latches on. You will know the latch is correct if his nose and chin touches your breast, and you hear your baby swallowing. This will help the baby’s gums to squeeze the milk ducts to get the milk.
  • Take breaks: If it is taking more than 45 minutes / 1 hour to breastfeed – take a break. Otherwise, the nursing sessions will lead to frustration for both you and the baby. You can always pump the rest of the milk to maintain the breast milk supply.


Always remember, it takes a LOT of effort for babies to master sucking, swallowing, and breathing at the same time. So, patience is key! Trust your baby to get there – they will! If you think, your breastfeeding sessions aren’t great and baby isn’t sucking well, do connect with your baby’s pediatrician, lactation consultant or midwife.

Be positive! Try your best to not get discouraged and upset, especially during the first few days and weeks with your newborn. This is the best time to get to know your baby – what works and what doesn’t!

We hope by the end of this article, it gives you clarity on starting your breastfeeding journey with your baby. The awareness on how the sucking reflex works can give you the relief to solve any breastfeeding difficulties you have been experiencing with your baby.

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