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A baby will explore his/her environment and learn from it. As the baby’s immune system develops and adjusts during the first year, the young one will use all the senses – smell, touch, sight, taste and hearing. With those tiny hands, the baby will first grasp and then move the hand straight into the mouth. This process of exploration is called ‘mouthing’, which is perfectly normal in babies. Have you noticed your baby put things in his/her mouth, wondered why he/she does it, and whether it is safe? There’s no need to rack your brain over it because we have you covered. Read on to know why babies put things in their mouth and also know what you can do to keep your baby safe and healthy through this phase.
Why Do Babies Put Everything in Their Mouth?
In the first year, with your baby putting toys in the mouth, you are sure to be concerned and will try to prevent it. However, the mouthing process is perfectly normal and means that the baby is learning to explore, and therefore, this phase is also called the phase of oral exploration in a baby’s life. Using their mouths and hands, babies explore and learn about different shapes, textures, materials, odours, tastes, sounds, and so much more.
Babies can start putting things in their mouth around the time they turn 7 months old. Some babies start doing this a little earlier also. They usually start with putting their fists in the mouth, and sometimes, even their feet! It is fine until they cannot move much. But, when they do, they slowly start to grab objects around them and begin putting them into their mouth. The process of exploration moves into reaching, shoving, grabbing, swatting, patting, and so on.
This exercise that babies indulge in by themselves helps build or strengthen their oral muscles. It helps the baby to get his/her jaw, tongue and cheeks to move in a coordinated manner. Babies also learn to suck on the thumb, which is their way of communicating and responding to stimuli like hunger, boredom, and so on. Most mothers discourage this habit, and rightly so, as prolonged thumb sucking can have many negative effects.
Furthermore, babies learn what tastes good and what doesn’t, and have the most divine fun exploring even yucky things that mothers would never dream of putting in their baby’s mouth.
Baby Putting Things in Mouth – Possible Risks
When babies can crawl and walk, keeping them away from the things that they can put in their mouths can be quite a task. This phase of development in babies comes with some risks, which, if dealt with properly, can be avoided too. Here are some risks of letting the baby mouth anything he can get access to:
1. Babies Can Choke or Injure Themselves
The most dangerous thing that can happen is that the baby can choke and suffer pain and discomfort. A not-so-easy thing to do is to ensure that small objects cannot be accessed by those tiny hands. It is recommended that you get down on the floor at baby’s eye-level, and look around at what objects are lying around that your baby can reach out for, grab and put in his mouth. Rough-edged objects, toys that can be broken into pieces, glass objects, the pet’s food bowl, standing buckets of water, etc. will be explored by the baby too. Ensure you keep all these objects away from your baby as they can lead to scratches, bruises, and even fatal accidents.
Because mouthing cannot be prevented in babies, they even lick the floor or the objects lying on the floor. This makes them susceptible to contracting infections, and the best way to prevent that is to maintain hygiene and keep the house clutter-free. Ensure you clean the floors, toys, and all the surfaces your baby can touch. In case you have more than one baby in the house, ensure they don’t share toys, especially when one of them is sick. Clean and wash all toys, linen, and surfaces with a mild disinfectant.
When Do Babies Stop Putting Things in Their Mouth?
Starting as early as 7 to 12 months, babies start mouthing objects. Normally by the age of two years, they start using their fingers to explore things around them. And, by the age of three, most children would have stopped putting objects into their mouths. If your child is still putting everything into his/her mouth and sucking his thumb at the age of 4, you must check with the doctor to build in corrective practices.
Baby Putting Things in the Mouth – Precautions to Take
With your baby chewing on everything here are some precautions you could take for a safe parenting experience.
1. Clear Out Small Objects
Check, recheck and remove any mouth-sized objects from the baby’s reach. (Loose change, pet food, small toys, marbles and anything that can fit into baby’s mouth). You will also need to clear out chemicals, cosmetics, etc. that can be potentially dangerous.
2. Rely on Positive Reinforcement
Do not yell at your baby if he is about to put something unsafe into his/her mouth. Instead, replace it with something that is safe. Mouthing comes naturally to babies. As much as it is not a safe habit, it is still essential to them during their growth years. As parents, you can keep the surroundings clean and allow the baby access to only the things that are safe for him/her.
3. Practice ‘no’
This practice is recommended when dealing with older kids. Teach them what ‘no’ means so that they can stop mouthing things when they are asked to. Also, ensure your instructions are gentle, in a playful manner to avoid making the situation stressful.
It is very likely that the baby puts things in his/her mouth while teething. To prevent this, you can get some teething rings and give them to the baby. You can also freeze them to give your little one relief from the teething pain.
5. Let Your Baby Play in Groups
Babies are never left alone in groups; they are always supervised. So, when your baby is in a group activity, he/she is bound to have fun touching faces, bumping noses, and giving kisses too. This doesn’t mean they won’t put anything in their mouth. They will, from blankets, clothes, and whatever catches their attention. But, it will be a safe environment because all the harmful things will be kept away.
The mouthing phase lasts a little while and can be made into a safe exploratory journey for both you and the baby. A little bit of dust and germs that cannot be prevented won’t make the baby sick. Enjoy this phase with a not very obsessive, germ-phobic attitude and all will be well.