I heard a parent admonish her 12-month old baby to “play with” a toy, “not put it in [her] mouth.”
Those two things are one and the same for young children.
Efficient little babies like to check things out with the most sensitive, high-precision tools they have: their mouths.
That’s why it is so important to choose durable toys that are not choking hazards, that are not painted with poison (toxic paints), and do not contain lead.
Your baby’s mouth is a versatile tool.
At first her mouth gulped a lungful of air for her first cry, then it gulped nourishment to fuel her first days outside the womb. One of the first things she could do was search for, and learn the feel of, your nipple — using her mouth. Before long she began using her mouth to coo with you, soothe herself (hooray for thumbsucking!), and practice an important life-long social skill, the smile.
Your baby’s mouth is an engineering marvel.
She even has extra tastebuds in that busy little mouth of hers. The tastebuds are distributed in a way that allows your baby to taste more, and enjoy longer, the fluids she takes in she’s in the traditional breastfeeding positions. Those facts mean that a young child’s mouth will be more sensitive to texture and temperature, as well as taste.
Mouth exploration is a developmental stage.
A valid one. A necessary one. The ability to bring hands to her mouth (2 months-ish) combines with the intense interest in bringing objects to her mouth (3 months-ish). Once she gets the object to her mouth, she will explore it with her tongue and lips. There is a lot of information that can be gleaned from the munching that babies naturally do to a new object. At about 5 or 6 months of age, when she’s more mobile, she’s also in more danger. A thorough saftey-proofing is necessary. As your older baby learns to eat solids, emerging teeth get in on the action, too.
The Year of the Mouth culminates in indispensable life skills: learning how to pucker up to kiss loved ones, eating, brushing her teeth, and someday, applying lip gloss.
Read more Cognitive Development posts