Babies putting things in their mouths, otherwise known as mouthing, is not only normal, but also signals a growing interest in the world around them. In the first year, children explore their surroundings through their senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. The more they explore, the more they learn.
While your baby is learning to master his hand movements -- reaching, grabbing, and swatting -- he's not yet so adept at using his fingers. So when a baby grasps what he desires and wants to investigate further ("Is it soft or hard? Can I eat it? Does it make a sound?"), this often means 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 your child will only mouth a wool blanket once.
Although mouthing is a positive experience for your child, you want to ensure his safety. To reduce the risk of choking, pediatricians recommend that children be allowed to play only with objects that are too big to fit all the way into their mouth. One easy way to check this is to make sure a toy or object can't fit through the opening of a toilet-paper tube. If it does, your child can choke on it, and the item is not safe. Also, be sure that an object is smooth enough not to scratch your child and doesn't have pieces that can break off. Take a few moments to do an inspection of your home at your child's eye level to identify any unsafe objects he may be tempted to put in his mouth.
Rest assured that when your baby picks up and licks the ball that rolled across the floor, there is little chance it will make him sick (though we wouldn't recommend doing that). Kids get sick from viruses and bacteria, not dust. So make sure he is not sharing toys with a child who is sick and can pass on germs. (Washing hands and toys frequently is also key.) That said, group play is very hands-on at this age. Children tend to bump into one another, touch one another's faces, and give kisses. So while it's smart to be cautious, parents simply can't protect their children from everything -- germs included.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.