Do you want to understand why your baby puts everything in their mouth? Learn about the oral stage of development and what precautions you should take.
Surely you have noticed that, even before starting to crawl, your baby has acquired the habit of bringing everything they find into their mouth. This is called the oral stage of development. It’s a stage of child development that often generates doubts and concerns among parents.
In this article, you will understand why your baby puts things in their mouth. Keep reading and discover how this contributes to your little one’s development and health, and what safety measures you should take during this stage.
Main characteristics of the oral stage of development
The oral stage of development is marked by the baby’s habit of mouthing (putting everything within reach into their mouth). During this stage, teethers, pacifiers, and fingers end up in the child’s mouth. But that’s not the end of it: they also have a taste for the TV remote, the fluff on the carpet, pieces of food that fell on the floor, and any object they find in their path.
As unhygienic as it sounds, this is part of the natural process of baby development. To understand it better, learn more about the characteristics of this phase below.
Explore the surroundings
While your baby is perfecting their hand coordination, they can’t quite feel the objects around them satisfactorily. So they use their mouth and lips, which are full of sensory nerves, to understand whether something is soft, hard, cold, hot, or rough. Thus, this experience helps your child get used to the different textures and sensations.
The oral stage of development allows babies to learn to identify if something is edible or not. This way, it contributes to the development of the sense of taste when they start the process of solid introduction. In addition, the act of sucking and biting helps to mature the coordination of the mouth, tongue, jaw, and cheeks.
Strengthening of the immune system
In addition to exploring the world, the oral stage favors the development of the immune system. By putting objects in their mouths, a baby’s body learns to identify germs and bacteria and protect itself from them. In this way, your little one reinforces their defenses and develops more healthily.
Feeling of relief or comfort
The habit of thumbsucking is also part of this oral phase. Babies do this to calm themselves when they feel uncomfortable, whether it’s because they’re sleepy, hungry, cranky, or for other reasons. Thus, sucking their thumb helps them to relax and also to fall asleep.
When does this stage of development begin and end?
Even before birth, it is possible to see a baby sucking their thumb in the ultrasound. After birth, the oral stage continues to develop. At around 3 to 5 months, babies begin to discover the environment. At this stage, the little ones reach out to pick up objects and, when they manage to hold them, they take them directly to their mouth.
When the first teeth come out, the gums usually become swollen, causing pain and itching in the area. This makes the teething period coincide with the oral stage of development, as babies feel the need to relieve the discomfort by biting on things.
As the baby grows, their motor skills improve and they begin to explore more of the world through touch. Therefore, the oral phase usually ends at around 18 months of age, although some children persist with this habit for longer. Therefore, it is important to be patient during this process, since each child develops at their own pace.
Precautions during the oral stage of development
Now that you have a better understanding of the oral stage, see what precautions you should take to ensure your baby’s safety.
You may have noticed that your little one quickly spits out some porridge or food with a taste and texture they did not know or did not like. This is because they have a so-called “gag reflex”, which makes their movements to spit or vomit very strong.
This “anti-choke” mechanism helps expel objects that are larger than the limits inside the child’s mouth. Despite contributing to the safety of the baby, we cannot rely solely on this reflex to avoid the risk of choking in the oral stage.
So, make sure your baby’s toys are safe and don’t contain small parts that could be swallowed. Inspect the house and remove any objects that could be dangerous. Also avoid offering them foods that they could choke on, such as grapes, popcorn, hard fruits, and raw vegetables.
As we have already mentioned, contact with germs helps make your baby’s immune system stronger. Also, it is unlikely that they will get sick if they put something they picked up from the ground and that had some dust on it. What causes a disease is being in contact with viruses and bacteria present in objects that have been handled by people who were sick.
However, that doesn’t mean your baby should put anything they find in their mouth, as there could be a risk of contamination. It is best to always maintain good hygiene in the environment and toys to control germ exposure.
As expected, babies don’t know what is dangerous and what is not. Everything seems interesting and worth exploring with their mouths. For this reason, it is also essential to keep cleaning products, medicine, nail polish, alcoholic beverages and other potentially poisonous products out of reach.
With proper precautions, it is possible to protect your baby during the oral stage of development and get through it without any problems. Remember to be patient, as your little one needs time to learn what can and cannot be explored with their mouth.
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