Why Do Babies Put Everything in Their Mouths?

Posted by Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP on 7th Oct 2015

At about 5-6 months of age, almost anything within reach makes a beeline straight to the mouth - keys, toys, their feet, etc. This oral exploration has several developmental benefits/reasons:

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Why Do Babies Put Everything in Their Mouths?

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•   It’s how babies first learn about the world around them. They’re utilizing all of their senses to experience new things, which includes the sense of taste.

•   It provides a “workout” for the oral motor musculature. Mouthing and eventually biting/chewing on things is how our tongue, lips, cheeks, and jaw first learn to move and coordinate with each other. It’s also how the mouth muscles strengthen in preparation for eating food and making speech sounds when they’re older.

•   It gets the mouth used to experiencing different textures and sensations, which encourages the transition to solid foods later on. In fact, when children come to me with texture aversions / sensory issues in feeding therapy, one of the first things I’ll ask mom/dad is if the child went through a mouthing stage. If they didn’t, we likely need to work on de-sensitizing.

•   It’s a way for babies to calm and self-soothe.

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So not only is mouthing a completely normal stage of early childhood development, but it’s also one that should be encouraged. Be sure to give them a safe outlet to mouth/chew, such as a Baby Grabber or Baby Guitar.

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Why Do Babies Put Everything in Their Mouths?

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I should also note that not all children go through a mouthing phase. And for many children that’s okay!  But, if the child has difficulties transitioning to puréed and then solid foods later on, you may want to consult with a feeding therapist to see if there are any oral sensitivities and/or oral motor delays.

If a baby does not actively seek out mouthing, try dipping their teethers into puréed foods to increase interest. You can also provide oral input in different ways, such as through gum massage, or stroking the lips, cheeks, and tongue with a proMini and/or proPreefer (which you can also dip into purées, as shown below). This is something I especially recommend for babies who have Down syndrome.

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Why Do Babies Put Everything in Their Mouths?

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How long the mouthing/chewing stage lasts may vary for each child. Sometimes kids will keep putting things in their mouths until after they stop teething.  Or, sometimes it will stop and then start again once teething starts (input to the gums can be very soothing when new teeth are trying to erupt).  It really just depends on the child.  So follow their lead, give them a teether whenever necessary, and enjoy this special time because they always grow up too fast!

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All my best,

Debbie

Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP

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