Isn’t it amazing to watch your little babies grow and explore the world? Their little antics and adorable activities, which they indulge in, leave a lasting smile on your face and make you feel proud of the journey that they are on—an incredible mixture of activities that involve ticking off early childhood milestones.
But sometimes you feel worried too, right? Are they doing the right things? Is it safe for them? Are they growing the right way?
These questions aren’t uncommon; in fact, they are very natural for parents, and they tend to arise when children start mouthing.
“Mouthing” refers to the behaviour of putting objects into the mouth - the instinctive act of putting objects into their mouths, which is a common and natural developmental stage in babies. They begin to develop general mouthing tendencies from birth until about 4-5 months of age.
Babies are natural explorers, and one of their early learning methods of understanding the world is through mouthing. During this time, your baby is becoming familiar with various textures, mostly to do with firmness, hardness and softness.
Mouthing contributes to sensory exploration and oral-motor skill development and serves as a comforting mechanism during teething. Therefore, parents must support and help in the development of mouthing.
Why does mouthing, an early childhood development, need to be supported?
One of the best ways that babies learn is through their senses. Their tiny lips and mouths are like super-sensitive touch detectors, and that’s why they love putting things in their mouths—it’s their way of getting to know the world.
When they touch and feel different objects with their mouths, it’s like a fun opportunity for independent learning through hands-on lessons for them. This is why babies learn well in tactile exploration, through being able to explore objects with their mouths and understanding them through tactile exploration. So, when you see your little one mouthing things, know that they’re not just playing—they’re on a sensory adventure, discovering and early learning in their own sweet way!
Also, believe it or not, exploring with their mouths actually boosts their immune system. It’s like a natural way for their tiny bodies to build up defenses and stay strong.
Additionally, mouthing is a natural teething remedy for babies as it helps them bear the painful experience. When they put objects in their mouths, the gentle pressure provides comfort to their sore gums. Specific types of materials like teething rings and amber necklaces help minimize the painful effects of teething.
How does mouthing development occur?
Mouthing development typically begins around 3 to 6 months of age and continues to be prominent up to about 7 to 12 months.
Around 3 months, babies start to gain better control over their hand movements and become more curious about the world around them. As their curiosity peaks, they begin exploring things around them and within their reach. What initially starts with reaching and grasping for things eventually prepares them for the mouthing stage, where they enter the phase of exploring with their mouths.
As they approach 6 months, they focus on bringing objects to their mouths to explore them further. This is further intensified with teething, where babies find comfort by mouthing objects to alleviate the discomfort associated with emerging teeth.
Mouthing peaks between 7 and 12 months, coinciding with the period when most babies experience teething-related challenges. However, it is essential to note that every baby doesn’t have a similar growth phase, and they may experience teething at a different timeline of development in childhood.
It is also important to note that babies also develop their mouthing habits through food and become aware of various flavours and textures as well. It helps babies to familiarise themselves with sensations and textures that are similar to cups, spoons, and finger foods. This allows your baby to prepare for eating and for independent learning in feeding later on as well.
Supervision and providing safe objects for mouthing are crucial during this stage to ensure a healthy and secure developmental environment for the baby.
What are safe objects that can be used for mouthing development?
For your baby and you, this mouthing development journey is an essential early childhood milestone as it opens the door to a world of exploration and sensory learning. But amidst this adventure, it is also genuine to have concern for your child’s safety and the objects that your little ones explore with their mouths.
Allowing your baby to explore a range of different mouthing toys as well as the fingers and hands is beneficial for mouthing development. Think of different textures, shapes, and temperatures.
Here are some objects that your baby can mouth safely at home:
- Unused make-up brush
- Silicone-tipped spatula
- Kitchen whisk
- Baby toothbrush
- Partially-frozen washcloth
- Wooden spoon
- Hands and feet: your baby may love to suck on their own—or your—fingers or toes
- A clean, raw potato, carrot, or turnip
- Frozen fruits
- Large wooden objects
- Soft toys like rag dolls and teddy bears, provided that they don’t have small buttons or objects on that can get bitten off and stuck in the throat.
- Unused balls of socks
Here are some objects that your baby can mouth and can be purchased online:
- Puzzle ball for rolling and for mouthing
- Wooden rattle for tracking sounds and mouthing
- Rolling bell for tummy time movement and visual tracking as well
- as for mouthing.
- A wicker basket can be used for mouthing and also for holding
- toys in
- Wooden sensory activities can be used for mouthing along with
- their sensorial purposes.
- Wooden blocks and toys of a medium to large size.
What are the mouthing opportunities, and how do they help?
Mouthing opportunities can be encouraged in your babies by making a game out of it. As it helps your baby get used to using their mouth, encouraging it the right way will lead to speech development in childhood as the movement of lips becomes more prominent.
You can help them in their mouthing journey with singing. To help your baby develop mouthing through singing, you can go to eye level with your baby and guide their hands towards the mouth. Then you can sing, “I like to eat, eat, eat fingers and thumbs,” and model a sucking motion on your own hands (Keep an eye out for any subtle cues if your baby is not enjoying the activity).
Note that if your baby is mouthing, let your child be, but if mouthing is interfering with the practice of necessary skills, such as tummy time, pulling up, and sitting, we can then try to provide our babies with a more intense mouthing activity just before these activities to reduce the need to have the hands in the mouth consistently during activity time.
This exploration phase is vital for cognitive and oral-motor development, making it essential to identify objects that strike the perfect balance between engagement and safety. You can also try allowing your baby to hold a mouthing toy, and then you can gently move your baby’s hands towards the mouth.
As babies embark on their sensory journey, thoughtful selection becomes a key to fostering joyful, secure, and healthy developmental milestones. Choosing age-appropriate, non-toxic items ensures a harmonious blend of curiosity and protection.
Why do babies engage in mouthing behaviours?
Babies mouth objects as a natural way to explore their surroundings, develop sensory awareness, and soothe teething discomfort.
When does mouthing typically begin?
Mouthing development usually starts around 3 to 6 months and peaks between 7 and 12 months.
How can parents support healthy mouthing development?
Parents can provide age-appropriate, clean, and non-toxic objects for exploration, supervise mouthing activities, and create a safe environment.
What are safe objects for mouthing development?
Safe objects include teething toys, soft fabric items, and items specifically designed for babies, ensuring they are free from choking hazards and toxins.
What should parents avoid during mouthing development?
Parents should avoid small objects that could pose choking hazards, items with sharp edges, and anything that may contain harmful substances.