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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Why does my 8-month-old put everything in his mouth--and how can I get him to stop?

Q: Why does my 8-month-old put everything in his mouth--and how can I get him to stop? I worry about germs.

A: Mouthing is not only normal for an 8-month-old, it signals a growing interest in the world. In the first year, children explore their surroundings through their senses--seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. The more they explore, the more they learn. While your baby is learning to master his hand movements--reaching, grabbing, and swatting--he's not yet so good at using his fingers to explore. So when babies get hold of something they are interested in and want to investigate further ("Is it soft or hard? Can I eat it? Does it make a sound?"), this often means putting it in their mouth.  Mouthing helps babies learn about the taste, shape and texture of objects. Through mouthing, babies also learn what feels good and tastes good, and what doesn't--so your child will likely only mouth a wool blanket once!

As for your concern about catching germs from mouthing, rest assured that when your baby picks up and licks the ball that has rolled across the floor, there is little chance it will make him sick (though we wouldn't recommend doing that!). Kids get sick from viruses and bacteria, not dust. So make sure he is not sharing toys with a child who is sick and can pass on germs. (Washing hands and toys frequently is also key.) That said, group play is very hands-on at this age. Children tend to bump into one another, touch one another's faces, and give kisses. So while it's smart to be cautious, parents simply can't protect their children from everything--germs included.   

A version of this question first appeared in American Baby magazine.

A: My baby mouths everything.  I worry about him choking.  How can I ensure he is safe?
Although mouthing is a positive experience and an important way for your child to explore, you want to ensure his safety. To reduce the risk of choking, pediatricians recommend that children be allowed to play only with objects that are too big to fit all the way into their mouth. One easy way to check this is to make sure a toy or object can't fit through the opening of a toilet-paper tube. If it does, your child can choke on it, and the item is not safe. Also, be sure that an object is smooth enough not to scratch your child and doesn't have pieces that can break off. Take a few moments to do an inspection of your home at your child's eye level to identify any unsafe objects he may be tempted to put into his mouth.  

A version of this question first appeared in American Baby magazine.




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