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It's natural to worry about choking and germs when your baby seems to be chewing on anything he can get his hands on, but mouthing is actually a normal, healthy part of your infant's development. During their first year of life, babies explore their surroundings through their senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. The more they explore, the more they learn. When a baby grasps something and wants to investigate further ("Is it soft or hard? Can I eat it? Does it make a sound?"), this often entails putting it in his mouth. Mouthing helps babies learn all about different shapes and textures. They also learn what feels good and tastes good, and what doesn't -- so chances are your child will only taste a yucky, old wool blanket only once.
Once your baby's fine motor skills have developed enough for him to start grabbing and picking up things (usually by 6 months), you will need to pay more attention to protect him from choking hazards. Allow him to play only with objects that are too big to fit all the way into his mouth. If a toy looks iffy, check to see if it can fit through the opening of a toilet-paper tube. If it fits, your child can choke. You should also make sure that the object doesn't have smaller pieces that can break off (this is why many older kids' toys are inappropriate for babies). Do a thorough check of your home and remove any unsafe objects within your baby's reach.
When it comes to germs, you can relax a bit. Kids get sick from viruses and bacteria, not from dust and crumbs on the floor of your house (as unappealing as putting them in your mouth may seem). Other than washing his hands and toys frequently and making sure he doesn't share toys with a sick child, know that you can't protect your child from every germ or speck of dirt.
Copright 2003 Meredith Corporation. Updated 2009.
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.