You’ve probably noticed that everything your baby can get their hands on ends up in their mouth — their feet, their toys, your finger, even your phone! Anything a curious baby can grab will be headed toward their mouth.
And this will only increase once your baby is crawling. But don’t worry! This is such a common baby thing that it even has a name: baby mouthing.
There are several reasons why babies put everything in their mouths. Baby mouthing is a normal part of your baby’s development and it can be good for their health.
This article includes more on when to let the baby mouthing go on and what safety issues to watch out for when it comes your drooling little explorer.
There are several reasons why baby mouthing happens. Your baby will probably start reaching for and grabbing things when they are
This happens for a few reasons, including:
They’re exploring their world
While older children and adults get the feel of things with their hands and fingertips, a baby’s chubby little hands are mostly good for grabbing things and accidentally hitting themselves.
You’ll notice that as your little one’s coordination improves, they’ll put their fists (and whatever they’re holding) into their mouth. Their hands and fingers aren’t yet well developed enough to really poke, squeeze, or stroke something.
Their lips and mouths, on the other hand (pun intended), are full of sensory nerves that let a baby really get a feel for what something is. So baby mouthing tells your baby if something is squishy or hard, furry or smooth, warm or cool.
They’re (almost) always up for a snack
A baby’s taste buds start forming early in pregnancy. In fact, your little one already has a sweet tooth before they’re born! Babies like sweet things better than things that taste sour or salty.
This sweet tooth — plus the fact that growing babies are almost always hungry — means your baby will check to see if something is sweet and if it’s edible.
Fortunately, babies also have strong gag and extrusion reflexes. This is evident when they’re presented with a new taste or different texture of food.
They’ll most likely spit out something that doesn’t taste good — although in the beginning, they’ll also spit out stuff that does. But you obviously don’t want to depend on reflexes alone when it comes to safety.
Fortunately, we don’t remember it, but growing all our teeth at the same time and having sore gums all the time must’ve been very uncomfortable! This is why teething babies can be grumpy sometimes.
Teething is another reason for baby mouthing. Your baby puts things into their mouth and bites down on anything near them — including you — because it feels good when they’re teething!
Before your baby learns to get their thumb in their mouth, you might notice that they suck on their entire hand — or on anything they can put in their mouths. Sucking or biting on something helps baby self-soothe.
Babies (like adults) can engage in self-soothing behaviors when things aren’t quite right. They might feel hungry, unsafe, cranky, sleepy, or uncomfortable.
All these things can make a baby crabby and irritated. Baby mouthing can feel soothing and help them relax.
They’re building their immune system
While your baby explores their world, their immune system is also learning about what’s out there and how to best protect their tiny bodies.
Baby mouthing introduces new germs to their insides. Yes, it seems gross when they put a dusty toy they discovered underneath the couch into their mouth, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This helps your baby’s shiny new immune system better recognize bacteria, viruses, and other germs that might get in, and it helps them prepare to fight off these invaders. This is why it’s usually OK if your baby sometimes ignores the 5-second rule when eating a newly discovered piece of food off the floor!
Baby mouthing is a normal part of a baby’s development and can help them build a stronger immune system. Baby mouthing helps your little one learn and satisfies their natural curiosity.
In general, it’s safe and you shouldn’t discourage it. But you still can’t let your baby put just anything into their mouth, of course.
Here’s what to look out for:
Make sure baby doesn’t get their hands on anything that they can choke on. This includes hard little toys or objects and hard or large foods that might break off and get stuck.
Things to look out for and avoid include:
- chunks of hard meat, cheese, or fruit
- hot dogs
- hard raw vegetables
- dry pet food
- corn kernels
- bits of hard candy
Of course, all small toys or collectibles around the house should stay out of reach. If it’s small enough to fit into an empty toilet paper roll, it can be a danger to your little one.
Sand and dirt can also get stuck in a baby’s nose and mouth and cause difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Pet food is safe and healthy for your pet, but it can be harmful for your baby. Some pet foods have higher levels of chemicals and minerals than human food. This can be dangerous for people — especially babies.
Pet food may also contain bacteria that can cause food poisoning in babies and adults.
While most dirt and decay that your little one finds won’t harm them, look out for old food, dead insects, and moldy objects. These can make baby unwell.
Check for old snacks and forgotten sandwiches at the bottom of your purse or diaper bag, or stuck in the car seat. If it’s there, chances are your baby will find it!
Toxic or poisonous things
All households have plenty of everyday things that can be harmful for baby mouthing and for anyone to eat. Some chemicals can also cause irritation or burns on your baby’s delicate skin or inside their mouth.
Call Poison Control (800-222-1222) and get emergency medical care if you think your baby may have mouthed or swallowed any of these items, including:
- household plants
- plant soil
- plant food
- pet food
- kitty litter
- bug spray
- shampoos and other toiletries
- nail polish
- nail polish remover
- household cleaners
- dishwasher detergent or pods
- furniture polish
- vitamins or supplements
- markers and ink
- paint and paint thinners
- gasoline or oil
- liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes
Your baby will grab at your hot cup of coffee or steaming plate of food to see what you have there. Keep your little one away from the dinner table and remember to keep your hot drinks out of reach.
Avoid drinking or carrying anything hot when you’re holding your baby. You’re a superhero, but your baby can be faster and more unpredictable!
Suffocation and strangulation
Common household items can be a suffocation hazard for your baby. Make sure your little one doesn’t have access to things like:
- plastic bags
- rubber bands
- plastic wrappers
- long scarves
- jump ropes
- yoga bands
- pull-strings on blinds and window coverings
Your baby can get tangled up in these or get them stuck against or inside their mouth and nose.
Since there are benefits to baby mouthing, it makes sense to safely help along the practice.
Keep your baby busy with or interested in things that they can safely mouth. Provide plenty of age-appropriate baby soothers and teething toys that are made for mouthing.
Check out this list for good teething toys to choose, like:
- natural rubber or wooden teethers
- cooling teethers
- teething toothbrushes
- teething mitts
Good toys and teethers for babies to mouth include toys that are made out of food-safe silicone and don’t contain harmful plastic chemicals like BPA.
You can also try natural teething remedies. Other things to consider include:
- Education and encouragement. Teach your baby about what’s good for mouthing and what’s not. Don’t stop them from mouthing everything. Instead gently discourage them from putting things into their mouth that they shouldn’t. For example, you can say “Dirt isn’t food” or “Dog food and doggy chew toys are for Rover only!” or “That’s yucky — we don’t put it in our mouth.”
- Vacuum regularly. It might just be one little vitamin or a tiny piece of dried up food that you can’t see, but your baby will probably find it in the carpet! If your little one is crawling, make sure to vacuum the room before letting them explore. Lay smaller babies on a soft blanket or play mat.
- Safety scan. Check the area around your baby and the room. Bend down and scan the room and floor from their very low vantage point to see if there’s anything that they shouldn’t be mouthing.
- Make a safe space. If there’s a lot of stuff around that might be harmful for a baby to mouth, keep your little one safe by putting them in a high chair or a playpen. Bring a foldable travel playpen if you’re visiting a friend or family member’s home.
- Learn baby CPR. Doing first aid for choking and CPR for babies and small children is a bit different, but it’s easy for anyone to learn! Take a weekend course and encourage your partner or other caregivers to also learn it. You never know when it might come in handy for your child or someone else’s.
- Emergency help. Keep all emergency numbers on your phone and on the fridge for anyone else looking after your baby to use. These should include Poison Control and your baby’s pediatrician. Call 911 if you don’t have these numbers handy.
Baby mouthing (aka putting everything into their mouth) is a part of a baby’s learning and development. It also helps their bodies get stronger and better able to keep them healthy.
However, in some cases baby mouthing the wrong things can lead to danger for baby or make them sick.
Assume your baby will grab at anything they can reach! Keep an eye out for what’s around them and what they might get their little hands on. Teach your baby what’s OK to mouth and what’s not, with a gentle but firm “No-no.”
If your baby gets into something potentially harmful by accident, like pet food or dishwasher pods, call Poison Control or emergency help right away.