As soon as a baby has the hand control and strength to hold an object, they will likely bring it to their mouth. If you've observed your baby do this, you may have asked yourself why they put everything from books to the strap of your purse in their mouths! It's a natural impulse, but why? And when will it stop? The Monti Kids Learning Team has some answers for you.
Why does my baby mouth every toy?
It is completely normal for a baby to use their mouth to explore an object. We gather enormous amounts of information- is it hot or cold, heavy or light, smooth or rough- about something by exploring it with our mouths.
For a baby, the mouth is the most developed sensory organ. As long as the object is not dangerous it is okay to let your baby explore in this way…even if it’s not necessarily something you would put in your mouth!
What's the science here?
From birth, the most developed parts of a baby's body are their mouths and throats! This is for survival (sucking and swallowing) and it remains that way while the rest of the senses catch up - for many months!
The nerve cells that transmit signals to the brain are myelinated in the mouth from birth. This means those cells are coated in a sheath that allows them to get information faster. Many other cells we have are not myelinated until adolescence. This means that for babies, exploration with the mouth is an extremely efficient way of learning about something!
When will my baby stop putting everything in their mouth?
Babies typically stop putting everything in their mouths when they start having more control over their hands.
Since the nerve endings in a baby's fingers don't compare to those in their mouths (yet!) they get more information from mouthing! A wonderful by-product of this is that while a baby is mouthing and exploring, they are using their hands to hold on to an object, a bit clumsily, you'll notice!
Holding a teething toy (or anything!) with purpose and practice will strengthen their grasp. They will practice reaching each time their toy falls. Over time, this practice will develop their hands and get them caught up to the mouth. It is a symbiotic process!
A study published in Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) indicated a significant decrease in toy mouthing after 18 months, but the same study noted that there is variety among children. Some toddlers are more mouth-oriented than others. It is not unusual for a 3-year old to want to see how things feel in their mouth.
How can I stop my baby from putting everything in their mouth?
You don't need to prevent your baby from putting toys and other objects in their mouth; you just need to make sure they only have access to safe items!
A rule of thumb is that toys and objects that are small enough to go through a toilet paper tube are choking hazards. Remind grandparents and other caregivers that your baby explores with their mouth and that anything left laying around, such as a pile of change or jewelry needs to be kept out of your little one's reach.
If you believe your baby is teething-- perhaps you've noticed more avid mouthing and extra drool-- you can offer comfort with a frozen teething toy, a chilled washcloth they can bite on, or even a fresh food feeder filled with cool or frozen fruits or berries.
Reframe your thinking about mouthing toys. It's a smart move on your baby's part!
Want to learn more about how children learn, right from birth?Pinpoint your baby’s stage of development with the MILES & STONES COMPASS