Is your baby putting everything in his mouth? Here’s how to deal with it

Who knew being a parent would mean round-the-clock surveillance duties? It was fine before your baby learned to crawl, but ever since he started getting out of the space you put him in, he’s been doing one more very alarming thing - he is putting everything in his mouth! Seriously, why does the baby mouth everything from slippers to dog food and pens and dead things?

Relax, mom! Your baby is just learning to explore. Think of his developmental stage. Initially, he wasn’t able to grasp anything, remember? Then suddenly one day, he was able to grasp stuff and then one day he was able to hold these things for longer. His eyes started moving in a more coordinated way, and his hands wanted anything they saw. This included your fingers, your hair, their blanket, their toys and everything else that was within their reach.

Why do babies do this?

Over time, they start having more control over their tongue and lips. Once that happens, their exploratory tendencies increase. It is possible that your baby is still on the breast, and this is the first association he makes. This means that when the baby wants to explore, he thinks of everything as food. This continues from the time they can grab things to the time they are about two years old. Of course, this is a very general estimate, and it is possible that your baby will continue doing this even after his second birthday, or stop before.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? We know this is your precious we are talking about, and you are driven stark raving mad every single time you see the baby mouthing things. But think of it this way, your baby is geared to do this. It isn’t something he picked up from seeing you, right? So he was born with this instinct. Apart from considering it food, he is also doing it because this is how he is tuned to learn about weights, textures, and shapes.

When you worry about how everything your baby mouths can make him sick, understand that your baby can get sick from germs only, and not dust (unless it’s an allergy). So if the baby picked up a broken piece of biscuit that you had dropped on the floor yesterday and forgotten about, it will probably not harm her. But if the same biscuit was licked by the dog, there is a good chance your baby might need a quicker change of nappy. Essentially, when your baby starts mouthing things, it is all going into building his immune system. His immunity is getting stronger, and he will be able to fight illness better.

There is another very interesting aspect to this. According to Mary Fagan, coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, putting things into his mouth is helping your baby’s tongue the shape changes it needs to create certain sounds, specially consonants such as K and G.

What you can do about it

Does this mean you allow your baby to mouth everything? No! Like we said, your baby thinks of everything as food because he does not yet know that a dead cockroach on the floor is not food. So as a mother, you have to be extremely careful to keep the crawling space completely clean. The baby will then probably stay away from anything risky and start putting toys into his mouth. Keep the toys clean, wash them regularly, and you are good! Also, please make sure that the toys haven’t been licked by another baby or your pet - your baby should only have his own saliva to deal with, not someone else’s!

Remove anything that might be a choking hazard. Keep out of reach all keys, coins, buttons and even small pebbles you used to decorate your coffee table with. Remove anything that can potentially make your baby sick - dog food, cat litter, shoes, electrical wires and the like. Basically, remove everything that can fit entirely into the baby’ mouth and things that you are not sure about.

One more reason why your baby is putting everything in his mouth is because he has begun teething. Even if you can’t see it yet, the baby’s teeth are readying to show up. This causes a lot of irritation in babies and they tend to deal with that with chewing or sucking things. Buy a lot of teethers - in different shapes and colours and keep them around the house wherever the baby goes. These are meant to help your baby with teething, and putting these into his mouth can be very safe, provided you wash these things once every often.

Reinforcement is also one way to deal with this. Believe us, your baby is smart enough already to know what he doesn’t like. If he doesn’t like the taste of paper, he will show it, and if you reinforce that with a similar expression, he will likely never touch it again.

Whatever you do, please don’t start scolding your baby. He doesn’t know what he is doing, and he is not doing it deliberately to drive you mad. Be a little cautious yourself, and keep an eye on your precious, and he’ll be fine.  

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