A few months after your baby is born, his curiosity will have him exploring the world around him. He will start reaching out for objects that catch his attention. However, since babies’ hand movements are not developed enough until about seven months, they can only manage to grasp objects but not fully explore them with their hands. To satisfy their curiosity, they put objects in their mouths as they are able to control their lips and tongues better than their hands. This is referred to as “mouthing”.
Claire Lerner, an LCSW with American Baby, elaborates this further in an article on www.parents.com:
“While your baby is learning to master his hand movements — reaching, grabbing, and swatting — he’s not yet so adept at using his fingers. So when a baby grasps what he desires and wants to investigate further (“Is it soft or hard? Can I eat it? Does it make a sound?”), this often means putting it in his mouth. Mouthing helps babies learn all about different shapes and textures. They also learn what feels good and tastes good, and what doesn’t — so your child will only mouth a wool blanket once.”
Besides being a means of exploration, there is another reason behind mouthing in babies, and that its teething. When babies’ teeth start coming in, they like gnawing object to soothe their gums. You can easily distinguish teething from regular mouthing when your baby drools while putting things in his mouth. Rest assured though that whatever the reason may be, mouthing is a completely normal and is a great way for babies to begin sensory development.
In this post I’ll be focusing more on mouthing, but you might find some information applicable to teething, too.
There were signs of mouthing in Ethan when he was well into his second month, however, it did not become as alarming until he learned to crawl and walk as it gave him more access to different objects. Today, he will put anything and everything he sees in his mouth so I need to watch him like a hawk all the time. The weirdest thing so far that I found him putting in his mouth was sand! We were at the beach that time but we managed to wash it from his mouth right away.
Since mouthing is essential to our child’s sensory development, it should not be discouraged. This doesn’t mean though that we should let them put anything in their mouths, as they may either choke or get sick. Here are a few tips I have for dealing with mouthing:
1. Keep small objects away from your baby. You might think he’s too small to do anything to that little piece of Lego their brother left lying on the bed, but babies are like ninjas, as soon as you turn your back they manage to grab on to stuff their not supposed to in a matter of seconds. Make sure you check your baby’s surroundings for anything he might choke on – ANYTHING. I read somewhere before that if an object easily fits into the hole of a tissue roll carton, then it’s small enough to become a choking hazard.
2. Keep chemical products out of reach. From a can of insect spray to bottles of cologne, make sure you keep them all stowed away on a high shelf or cupboard. Chemical products can poison our babies, so be mindful of where you place these things after use. One time I left Ethan’s bottle of lotion on the sofa, within seconds I found him already mouthing the cap and the product almost poured into his mouth, it was a good thing the bottle was almost empty!
3. Buy toys that encourage their sensory development. Find toys that are colorful and have different textures so that you may offer these in exchange for anything unsafe they may find. Keep an eye out for toxic toys though, such as those with Phthalates, cadmium and mercury – always check the labels! It would also be ideal to regularly clean toys, too.
4. Experiment with edible sensory play. Sensory play involves activities that encourage the development of your baby’s senses. Pinterest is loaded with DIY activities that you can do at home, however, some ingredients and items used tend to be unsafe for babies to ingest. I did, however, come across one article through Pinterest wherein the mother used edible ingredients for sensory play, like oatmeal, pudding mix, cornstarch, jell-o, and vegetable oil. I must warn you though that it can get messy! Learn more about edible sensory play, click on the image below.
I hope you find these tips useful!
At some point, you might start to worry about the germs he might pick up when mouthing – I know I did! I came across a few articles though with information that may put your mind at ease.
Here’s an excerpt from an article titled “Why Babies Mouth Everything” from www.whattoexpect.com:
“When your baby picks something up off the ground (the pacifier that’s been hanging out with the dust bunnies behind the sofa, say, or a dead beetle in the backyard) and sticks it in his mouth, the bacteria and viruses he exposes himself to give the immune system a chance to fight them off — and makes your baby stronger.”
Let me share another one from “When Your Baby Puts Everything in His Mouth” on www.parents.com:
“Rest assured that when your baby picks up and licks the ball that rolled across the floor, there is little chance it will make him sick (though we wouldn’t recommend doing that). Kids get sick from viruses and bacteria, not dust. So make sure he is not sharing toys with a child who is sick and can pass on germs. (Washing hands and toys frequently is also key.) That said, group play is very hands-on at this age. Children tend to bump into one another, touch one another’s faces, and give kisses. So while it’s smart to be cautious, parents simply can’t protect their children from everything — germs included.”
Though this information helps us realize that nothing major can come out of licking a bit of dust, it is still our responsibility as parents to keep them away from potentially hazardous objects. My intention for sharing the information above is so that you do not fall into a major meltdown when your baby stuffs sand in his mouth, like one mother I know (cough, cough).
Let’s encourage our curious little ones to explore the world around them by letting habits such as mouthing run their course. If you feel, however, that your child is too old for mouthing yet still exhibits it, it may be best to consult your doctor.
I’m curious to know, mommies – what is the weirdest thing you caught your child putting in their mouth? Please share them in the comments section below!