Is your curious little bub putting absolutely everything that they come across into their mouth? Your phone, their toes, some fluff on the rug, yesterday’s cereal, books, your hair – you name it! It’s what’s known as ‘baby mouthing’, and rest assured it’s a very normal, healthy, and beneficial part of development. If you’re wondering why they do it or if it is an issue if they don’t, if you’d like some safety and hygiene tips, and you want to know when they will finally stop mouthing everything, then this article is for you.
Why do babies put everything in their mouth?
Between about 3 to 5 months, your baby will start reaching for and grabbing things. Once they’ve mastered that important skill, they’ll proceed to bring things to their mouth. By around 6 months, they’ll take it to the next level and mouth anything and everything. There are several reasons they do this, otherwise known as mouthing see following list:
1. They’re exploring their world
Babies learn more about objects through their mouth than any other senses. They actually have more receptors and sensitivity in their mouth than their fingertips, and their little hands aren’t well developed enough to really squeeze, stroke, or manipulate objects. Through manipulating things with their lips and tongue they learn about taste, shape, texture, and temperature.
2. They’ve got a tooth on the way
If you notice your bub drooling and putting things in their mouth more than usual, it could be a sign that a tooth is about to erupt. Give them teething toys to chomp on, and lots of extra cuddles to soothe their aching gums.
3. It’s soothing
Sucking or biting on things is very soothing and can help them relax if they’re feeling uncomfortable, hungry, unwell, or tired. Once they discover their fingers, hands, or a dummy/soother, they’ll realise they’ve got a convenient soothing tool when they need it.
4. They could be hungry
Babies are usually up for a little snack, so they’ll test if anything they can grab is edible first. They can’t decipher whether something is food or not just yet. Thankfully, they have a strong gag reflex, so they’ll spit things out, but it’s important to be mindful of keeping them safe.
Safety tips for a baby who is mouthing everything
This can be a very challenging stage as you’ll need to be constantly checking their environment for safety hazards as they explore it. We definitely don’t need to stopping them from mouthing objects, so we need to remove anything that is:
- A choking risk Tip: If it’s small enough to fit inside an empty toilet paper roll, it is a choking danger.
- A burns hazard
- Suffocation and strangulation risk
What about the hygienic perspective of mouthing?
So, should you stop your baby from putting the toy or dummy in their mouth that’s been under the couch for who-knows-how-long? It might be best to just look away because it could actually be making your baby stronger if you let them do it. They’re building their immune system when they introduce new bacteria and viruses into their body.
The same goes for when they inevitably drop (or throw!) food from their highchair and it lands on the floor. Just pick it up and give it to them (while you cringe internally). You certainly don’t have to keep the place super sterile, just free from hazards.
What if your baby isn’t mouthing?
While it might seem like you’ve hit the jackpot because your baby is uninterested in putting things in their mouth, so while it may not be of huge concern (talk to your paediatrician or speech pathologist for peace of mind anyway), it is something you can encourage because it can be benefit them in these ways:
- Exploring new sensations with their mouth can help to avoid fussy eating.
- The mouth and tongue movements of mouthing will help to mature the muscles used for speech development.
- It helps to strengthen their gag reflex that protects them against choking.
You can encourage mouthing by providing plenty of safe and age-appropriate teething toys that are made from natural rubber or wood, chilled teethers, teething mitts, toothbrushes, and safely prepared finger foods. Dipping finger foods (or toys) in different foods such as apple puree or hummus will increase the interest and enjoyment. You could model mouthing toys too, or let them take food from your mouth. Have some fun with it, and keep the atmosphere light and relaxed.
When will they stop putting everything in their mouth?
It can vary but for most children, they will stop mouthing by the time they’re 3 years old. Some children (and adults) never fully outgrow the desire for frequent oral input.