What is suckling?

Suckling is a wonder of natural engineering that has helped sustain the human race for millennia. But exactly what happens when your baby suckles at a mother's breast?


So what actually happens when a baby suckles?

breastfeedingOnce the nipple is correctly positioned, feeding occurs by a process of peristalsis. That is the wave-like motion seen elsewhere in the body during digestion. The tongue, jaw, lips and palate are all part of the process.

Here is the process in detail:

  • The baby draws your nipple and much of the breast tissue lying behind your areola into his/her mouth.

  • The lower jaw is raised to constrict the base of the nipple and the front tip of the tongue wells up to compress the breast against the roof of the mouth.
  • Waves of compression by tongue move along the underside of the nipple, pushing it against the hard palate. This roller-like action squeezes milk from the nipple through the middle of the mouth and to the back.
  • The same wave of compression by the tongue is also responsible for pushing the milk towards the back of the baby’s mouth for swallowing. As it does this, it pushes the soft palate up and out of the way, so that the milk spills into your baby’s gullet.


Palate = Roof of the mouth

Peristalsis = Wave like motion caused by muscle contractions.

Rooting = The reflex in newborn babies that prompts them to turn their faces towards their mother’s breast and make sucking motions.