Babies spend the first few months of their little lives being passive observers. Unable to do much more than sit and take everything in. They garner control of their mouth and tongue pretty early on, and as they grow and develop, they slowly become more able to move and interact with their surroundings. And so naturally as they learn to grip on to things, their instinct is to bring it to their mouth to inspect it further.
Reasons babies put things in their mouth
Here are some reasons why babies engage in mouthing and exploring objects with their mouths:
- Sensory exploration: Infants learn about their environment primarily through their senses. By putting objects in their mouths, babies can explore the texture, taste, and temperature of different items. This oral exploration helps them gather sensory information and develop an understanding of their surroundings.
- Development of oral motor skills: Mouthing objects supports the development of oral motor skills, such as tongue movement, jaw control, and coordination of mouth muscles. These skills are essential for later stages of development, including speech and feeding.
- Soothing and self-regulation: The act of sucking or mouthing can provide comfort and help babies self-soothe. It offers a calming effect and can help them cope with various emotions or sensations, especially during teething or times of discomfort.
- Teething relief: As babies’ teeth begin to emerge, they may experience discomfort and soreness in their gums. Mouthing objects provides a form of relief by applying pressure to the gums, helping to alleviate teething-related discomfort.
- Curiosity and exploration: Babies are naturally curious about the world around them. By putting objects in their mouths, they can investigate and interact with different textures, shapes, and tastes. It allows them to satisfy their curiosity and learn about objects and their properties.
It might seem odd to us, but this is their way of understanding and making sense of the world around them. Developmentally this is very important and a great sign and will help them as they start on solid foods and using cutlery to bring the food to their mouths.
Some babies also find this very calming, which is why you’ll often find their comforter or favourite toy is always in their mouth.
So this is when you need to start watching what is in their reach – and especially once they are on the move – because anything that is near, them, will more than likely end up in their mouth. You need to be careful that they don’t get hold of anything they may be able to choke on. Providing appropriate teething toys, textured teethers, or other safe objects for mouthing can help satisfy their oral exploration needs while minimising the risk of injury or ingestion of harmful items.
And try not to worry too much about germs, little ones will pick up things and put things in their mouths (most mums will have a story) but rarely will they get sick from this. It’s helping to build their immune system. Make sure you clean their toys regularly and if you are out at someone’s house or out in public you are mindful of what they are touching or playing with and anything poisonous or dangerous is well out of reach.
Ingesting non-food items, such as dirt, rocks, or plants, may cause health problems or blockages in the digestive system so always supervise children during outdoor play and discourage them from putting non-food items in their mouths.
Likewise, if a child attempts to swallow a large object, it can lead to airway obstruction or other complications so be sure to intervene and remove the object if necessary.
When do babies grow out of putting things in their mouth
As babies grow and develop, their mouthing behaviour tends to decrease as they gain more control over their motor skills and expand their exploration methods beyond oral interactions.
Babies typically start to outgrow the strong urge to put everything in their mouths as they reach toddlerhood and continue to develop their fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, and understanding of the world around them. The exact timing may vary from child to child, but here is a very general progression:
- Around 6 to 9 months: During this stage, babies are exploring objects through their senses and developing their oral motor skills. They have a strong desire to put objects in their mouths, especially those within their reach. Caregivers should ensure that objects are safe and appropriate for mouthing.
- 9 to 12 months: As babies become more mobile and gain better hand-eye coordination, they start to explore objects through other means, such as touching, shaking, banging, and manipulating them. Their oral exploration begins to decrease as they engage more in these alternative ways of exploring.
- Toddlerhood (1 to 3 years): As toddlers grow and develop, they become more skilled in using their hands and have a better understanding of objects and their functions. Their desire to put objects in their mouths diminishes further as they shift their focus to other forms of play and exploration.
If you have concerns about your child’s mouthing behaviour or if it persists beyond the expected age range, it’s always a good idea to consult with a pediatrician or healthcare professional for guidance and reassurance.