Parenting & Families

Why Does My 8 Month Old Baby Put Everything in her Mouth and How Can I Get Her to Stop?

Eight-month-old babies are all mouth!

Children at this stage attain most of their gratification orally. They form attachments to all sources of oral stimulation, including sucking, eating and anything else that they can be put into their mouths. T his period of primary narcissism operates on the pleasure/pain principle. Understanding is reached primarily through sensory impressions as well as motor activities. Since children at this age are unable to move around with complete independence, they depend primarily upon their senses. As a result, they get into everything and create a large inventory of external objects and situations. These schemes engage both their mental and physical world through sensory exploration, and their touchstone for information is the mouth. Since much of the child’s gratification is found in eating, sucking and putting things into the mouth, this region becomes the focus for sensory and motor activities. In fact, Piaget called this stage the sensorimotor stage.

Of course, this period of growth and development does not happen in a straight line, but rather in a zig-zag or switchback fashion. Like Dr. Doolittle’s push-pull toy, toddlers, leap forward and then regress back as they learn to navigate both their personal and social environment. It is important, therefore, for both the child’s well-being and for mother’s sanity, to create a user friendly environment – one that is safe, clean, and tension free. Since this behavior is a normal stage of development – it too shall pass. However, if mother “loses her cool”, she may orally fixate her child. This can lead to nail biting, over eating and anxiety talking at a later period.

It is important to remember that toddlers are very invested at this time both socially and personally in this oral zone of sensation. As a result, pain is the other emotion also experienced orally. For example – a child may be wanting his bottle and feels the tension and anxiety in his mouth when it is not forthcoming. Hunger, biting and other oral activities can be linked with pain, as well as pleasure – social, as well as non-social, oral experiences.

These oral drives, if not satisfied, intensify until the child is both frustrated and anxious. Children reach for substitutes to alleviate their discomfort, such as sucking their fingers or a blanket. Further frustration occurs when feedings must be given up during the night, or when unsafe, unclean objects are removed from the child. Then conflict occurs, and it is at this point that parents have the opportunity to gently guide their child to more acceptable drive satisfaction. Balance is the key. Toddlers have problems at this stage when they get either too little or too much oral gratification. A healthy outcome develops when a toddler learns to cope in a stress free, clean, safe and experience-rich environment.