Chew on This: Understanding What’s Safe for Baby’s Mouthing Exploration

When it comes to babies exploring their world, mouthing is a critical part of the development process. Yet, this phase can also pose potential dangers. The key lies in understanding what’s safe for baby’s mouth and what’s not. From cigarette butts at the park to staples and broken glass, the list of hazardous items babies can put into their mouths can be startlingly extensive.

What is Mouthing in Babies?

“Mouthing behavior is a normal part of development for young children,” explains Dr. Kimberly Thompson, MD, a Harvard professor and director of the Kids Risk Project. “It’s one of the ways that children explore their environments. Studies show that children put an enormous range of objects into their mouths … but some children show very little mouthing behavior and others a lot.”

Mouthing typically occurs most frequently between birth and 18 months. This is a period when babies are teething but lack the mobility for other forms of exploration. However, some children continue mouthing through the toddler years and beyond. Research indicates that the average child under three mouths for about 30 minutes a day. But since it’s challenging to predict those 30 minutes, parents need to be constantly vigilant.

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The Potential Dangers of Mouthing

The risks associated with mouthing vary from minor, such as exposure to germs, to serious and even potentially deadly. Extreme risks include poisoning from ingesting toxic substances and internal injuries caused by swallowing small items, particularly magnets. However, the most significant danger is choking. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, airway obstruction poses a leading cause of death for children under four and is the primary cause for children younger than one.

Kelly Smith, owner of Totsafe, a Michigan-based babyproofing company, asserts that many parents are unaware of the full range of items that pose choking risks. “Everyday items including pen caps, coins, rubber caps on the bottom of toilets, rubber tips from door stoppers, and even balloons are choking risks to children,” Smith warns. “They may be small items, but they can be deadly.”

How to Ensure Your Baby’s Safety During Mouthing

When it comes to mitigating the risks of mouthing, exposure to germs is probably the easiest to control. Regular cleaning and disinfection of items that your baby likes to mouth or shares with other children can help keep your baby healthy.

As for more severe mouthing hazards, experts agree that the single most crucial factor in keeping children safe is adult supervision. However, as any parent would testify, it’s practically impossible to keep an eye on children every second. Therefore, the second most important step is to childproof your home and other places your baby frequently visits.

As a rule of thumb, a young child should not have access to any non-food items smaller than the size of his fist. But small objects aren’t the only dangers. You should also remove larger items that your child might be able to bite into, such as plants, books, and older kids’ toys with small parts.

Babyproofing Your Home: Essential Tips for Your Baby’s Safety

Babyproofing your home is crucial to ensure your child’s safety, especially during the mouthing phase. Kelly Smith, a babyproofing expert, emphasizes the importance of getting down to a child’s level to understand potential hazards. Here are her specific tips for babyproofing your home.

Babyproofing Checklist

  1. Check Floors: Inspect your floors for small objects that could become choking hazards. Feel under the edges of couches, inside cushions, and under furniture edges.
  2. Relocate Decorations: Move breakable and small items like figurines, ceramics, marbles, and vases to higher places where children can’t reach them.
  3. Remove Tablecloths: Toddlers may try to pull on tablecloths and coverings, which could lead to accidents.
  4. Install Safety Measures: Install locks or baby gates on older children’s bedroom doors to prevent younger ones from entering.
  5. Replace Doorstops: Two-piece doorstops can present choking hazards. Replace them with one-piece doorstops.

Remember that as your child grows, they’ll find new ways to circumvent your safety measures. Your childproofing strategies must evolve accordingly.

What if It’s Too Late for Prevention?

Despite your best efforts, there might be times when prevention fails. Here’s what to do in such scenarios:

  • Object in Mouth: If your child has a small object in their mouth but hasn’t swallowed it yet, squeeze their cheeks gently to open their mouth and sweep the item out with your hooked finger.
  • Swallowed a Small Object: If your child swallows a small object such as a coin, stay calm. Most small items will pass through a child’s system without causing harm. However, it’s crucial to call your child’s pediatrician for advice.
  • Swallowed Something Toxic: If your child ingests something toxic, call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222 or dial 911. Have the item your child consumed at hand to describe it or read the label if necessary. Don’t induce vomiting unless instructed by a medical professional.
  • Choking or Unconscious: In case of choking or unconsciousness, call 911 immediately and begin CPR. Keep instructions for CPR and the Heimlich maneuver handy for such emergencies.

Keeping It All in Perspective

While these dangers may sound alarming, Dr. Thompson offers reassuring words for parents worried about mouthing. “The most important thing for parents to remember is that it’s part of normal development, as is being exposed to germs.” So, do your best to ensure safety, but remember that children will eventually outgrow the mouthing phase. After all, the goal is to keep them safe and allow them to explore their world in a healthy way.


Babies and their mouthing habits are a natural part of their growth and exploration of the world. However, it’s essential for parents to be vigilant and informed about what items are safe and which ones pose a danger. Remember, the best way to ensure your child’s safety is through constant supervision, regular cleaning of their toys, and thorough babyproofing of your home. It’s also important to stay updated on first-aid procedures and have emergency numbers readily available.

While it’s crucial to be aware of the potential risks, remember that mouthing is a normal part of a child’s development. It’s not something to be overly worried about but rather managed with informed, proactive steps. As your child grows and their mouthing habits change, your strategies will also need to evolve to keep up with their new ways of exploring the world.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a safe environment that allows your child to learn and grow. With careful planning and vigilance, you can ensure that your child’s mouthing phase is a time of discovery and development, rather than a cause for concern.

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