Baby Puts Everything In His Mouth - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I have tried to baby proof, but our nine month old still finds all kinds of things to put in his mouth.

He is getting around the house pretty well now. In a split second, a magazine on the coffee table or a shoelace on a dirty tennis shoe will go from his little hand to straight into his mouth. Short of staying in one absolutely sterilized room all day with him, what can I do to prevent him from doing this?

Missed Again

 

Dear MA,

You can’t, nor should you want to, prevent this important stage of development.

Hand to Mouth
As soon as an infant can control his hands well enough to grasp objects, starting around four months, the purpose seems to be to bring the objects to the mouth. Likely this is a survival feature to assure the he will be able to feed himself. He doesn’t yet know which objects are edible and which are not, so please continue to be conscientious about keeping obvious hazards out of his reach but also keep a watchful eye on what nevertheless gets into his clutches.

If you have already started spoon-feeding you have probably experienced him grabbing at the spoon to “help” to pull it into his mouth. One tip to reduce his frustration and yours is to give him his own spoon so he can practice with it while you get the food in with the other. Soon you can offer a variety of foods that he can pick up with his fist and smash into his mouth on his own. Suggestions include: banana slices, avocado cubes, and “O” shaped cereal. Be sure to start one new food at a time to help you spot allergic reactions. By around twelve months a baby should be successful with feeding himself with his hands. Over the following year, you can look forward to his gaining skills to effectively handle a spoon, a cup, and a fork.

Contrasts and Categories
Through his early years your son will have more taste buds on his tongue than he ever will have again. You will notice that he reacts differently between one food and another and will express his likes and dislikes. His taste buds help him to make observations of non-food items, too. His blanket tastes of cotton. His crib rail tastes of wood. His squeaky giraffe tastes of rubber. Your finger tastes salty. There are gadgets for babies that allow for a mushy piece of food, such as fresh fruit, to be mouthed and sucked as the baby holds it himself by a ring. The benefit of these gadgets is that only liquid passes through the meshed surface, preventing the baby from getting a piece of food too big to swallow. The diverse tastes of strawberries, peaches, and blueberries are added to his body of knowledge about the world.

The nerve endings in his tongue and lips are also more numerous than they will be later, providing additional information to the brain about textures, temperatures, sizes, and shapes. Common household objects can similarly provide rich sensory stimulation as he explores them by mouth – a cork coaster, various wooden cooking utensils, different sizes of empty yogurt containers, etc. Keep these handy, and as clean as you keep his other “toys.”
 
Speaking of actual toys, or rather, “teaching materials,” there are some wonderful options designed specifically for babies to manipulate with their mouths.

Teething Comfort
The age period for getting the hang of eating and for starting to catalog the objects of the world coincides with the emergence of a baby’s first teeth. To be perfectly blunt, teething hurts. Pain relief can come from rubbing an object on the gums or biting down on an object. Again, common household items, such as a dampened washcloth that has been chilled in the freezer or that cork coaster, can be just as effective as items explicitly manufactured for this purpose.
Excessive salivation (drooling) is a clue that your baby is putting things in his mouth to relieve pain in his gums. Adding more misery to his mouth pain, a rash can develop if you don’t take care to gently wipe up the saliva on his chin. Fortunately yours is not the first infant to have teeth force their way through tender gums. Take teething tips from parents and experts alike weighing these suggestions by what seems best for your baby.

Coordination for Articulation
Is your baby talking yet? Probably not. However as he works his jaw, tongue and lips around toys and non-toys he is gaining coordination among the muscles that will help him to speak clearly. This is such a natural process that most of the time parents are unaware of the growing ease with which a baby approaches his exploration of objects by mouth. If a preschooler has articulation issues, a speech therapist will assess the precise movements that need to be worked on. Remedial exercises such as blowing on a feather, licking peanut butter off a spoon, or giving a Bronx cheer, help to build strength and control in the very muscles that are inherently involved in mouthing.

You can also encourage the flexibility needed for clear speech by making noises back and forth with your child. A favorite between my son and myself was to make the sound of “bah!” as a small ball is pulled away from pursed lips. Taking turns in this game entertained us for several minutes at a time when he was around the age of your son.

Building Immunities
While germs can cause disease, it’s true, they can also teach your body how to prevent disease. A healthy immune system will recognize a germ that has infiltrated the body in the past, and rather than letting it run its course, there is a rapid response of antibodies to prevent the would-be repeat offender from making you sick a second time.

Health experts still recommend regular hand washing along with sanitary practices in kitchens and bathrooms to keep germs from spreading, however, eradicating exposure to all germs is unnecessary for overall healthy development. Consider those inevitable upper respiratory infections your son picks up through mouthing random objects, and from making friends with other young children over the next couple of years, as part of his “scheduled” immunizations. Exposure to germs early in life, while temporarily unpleasant, is actually preventative medicine.

Dr. Debbie

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