What's Mouthing and its Role in Feeding

What's Mouthing and its Role in Feeding

By sucking their fingers, a parent’s fingers and objects like a blanket, your baby uses its mouth to explore their world and this starts from birth. It is also one way babies may self soothe and find comfort.

As your baby develops, they will bring objects like toys to their mouth to gum and teethe on them. This is an important developmental stage. It helps a baby learn about tastes, sensations and textures using their mouth, gums, tongue and back of throat. By around four to six months they are developing hand and eye coordination to reach out for objects and exploring them with their mouth. Up until this point the protective gag reflex, which is stopping them from chewing and swallowing, is limiting how far things can go into the mouth before they gag on it. Read more about gagging and choking

Letting your child put things like toys in their mouth is important

This mouthing, gumming and sucking on their hands (and feet) and objects like toys can help prepare a baby for solid food. It can help de-sensitize the gag reflex and build up muscle strength in the mouth to chew food. It also gets them ready to accept a hard object like a feeding spoon. By offering your baby a variety of toys or teethers, you can help prepare your baby for different food textures. It is very important to always watch your baby and make sure safe objects are available for them to use. If your baby does not put things in their mouth, you may want to seek some advice from your doctor or child health nurse. If babies aren’t allowed, or don’t want to, put objects in their mouth this may lead to feeding issues. Regular washing of toys and hands will help decrease the risk of harmful germs.

Is mouthing a sign they are ready for solids?

Most babies are ready for solid food at around six months of age. You may notice your baby is showing an interest in food, for example, they reach out for food. Together the following signs show you that your baby is ready for solid food:

  • They have good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported (such as in a highchair).
  • They can control their tongue and do not stick it out when given food.
  • They open their mouth when offered food.

Read more about starting solids

Mouthing objects and putting things in their mouth is an important developmental stage. If you are worried or have questions about how your child is growing and developing talk to your child health nurse or doctor.