Watching your little baby grow and learn new things is so fun! Each new developmental milestone comes with lots of excitement as you see your little one master new skills and develop new behaviors and abilities.
While most of it is funny and cute, some things that babies do might be unusual and just plain weird. Chewing on everything (and sometimes nothing) is one of those weird, but normal, behaviors that I am referring to.
Why do babies make chewing motions? The chewing motion is a normal part of an infant’s development as they learn new parts of their body, observe the world around them, learn to communicate and begin the teething process.
In this article, we will discuss exactly why your baby is starting to make more frequent chewing motions as well as tackle some common concerns about teething and what to expect during this process.
Why Babies Chew With Nothing in Their Mouths: 7 Common Reasons
Is your baby beginning to chew on anything and everything? Perhaps you have seen her chewing with nothing in her mouth. This is a very normal part of development, and there are several explanations for this new behavior.
1. Mouth Exploration
The chewing motion may become the most prominent between the ages of 4 and 6 months as babies are learning their body parts and using their mouths to learn.
Just like observing and touching, mouthing or chewing/sucking on objects is one of the primary ways that your baby learns about the world around her.
Your baby will begin her exploration by chewing on her own hands. Around 3 or 4 months of age, she will likely start to reach, grasp, and mouth other objects more intentionally.
Mouthing helps babies experiment with different ways of moving their lips, tongue, and jaw.
These experiences help babies gain the muscle strength, body awareness, and sensory input that lay the foundation for greater developmental milestones, such as speaking and eating solid foods.
2. Suckling Reflex
While in the womb, babies will develop many instinctive reflexes that will help them to survive once they are born.
Sucking and chewing are natural reflexes that aid in breastfeeding. Without them, a baby would not be able to latch properly on the breast to suck milk.
Because babies are fed around the clock, they might suck on their tongues when they are not being fed in order to satisfy the innate need to suck.
This sucking movement can easily be confused with chewing, even though there is nothing in your baby’s mouth.
Later on, once breastfeeding is well established, your baby may continue to use the sucking movements as a way to console herself. Babies will often chew or suck on anything in order to satisfy the need to suckle. This is why a lot of babies love pacifiers.
By three or four months, most infants will have outgrown the sucking reflex. They will continue to suck when something is placed in their mouth, but you will not see them sucking on their tongue or sucking the air quite as often.
3. Learning To Control Tongue
If you notice your little one chewing on her tongue, it could be that she is simply discovering the tongue in her mouth. Babies are constantly discovering new things about their body and how to use it.
As they become more aware of their tongue, they will begin to move it around a lot more or even chew on it.
This muscle awareness and coordination that they are learning is a critical part of their development and is essential to beginning solid foods.
4. Exercising Jaw Muscles
After the age of 3-4 months, it may seem like your baby puts everything in her mouth. It can be worrisome to parents, but it is actually the key to hitting milestones in oral development.
Chewing on objects, even the tongue, helps to strengthen the jaw muscles and help them grow to their full potential. This plays a major role in determining the need for orthodontic treatment or dealing with oral myofunctional issues later in life.
5. Mimicking You
Babies are like sponges. They observe those around them and absorb everything from their environment.
Between the ages of 4 and 6 months, as babies are preparing to eat solid food, they will become more interested in what you are doing while eating.
They will watch the way your mouth moves and will show a lot of interest in the things you put in your mouth. They may even begin to mimic you! It is very normal for babies to do things that they observe their parents doing, including chewing.
Beginning around the age of 5 or 6 months, your baby will begin to get her first teeth! While the little baby teeth are oh-so cute, the process of teething is not a fun time for babies or parents.
It can be very uncomfortable and painful for your little one. Chewing and biting are actually relieving for teething babies as they provide counter pressure to the sore gums and rising teeth.
When teething, babies will chew on everything, including their fingers, toys, and even their tongue as they try to soothe the discomfort in their gums.
7. Sign of Hunger
Because they cannot talk, babies must find other ways to communicate their needs.
When a baby, particularly a newborn, is hungry, she will stick out her tongue and begin to perform the air-chewing motion. This, again, is related to the suckling reflex that is instinctive for all babies.
Parents will quickly learn to recognize this feeding cue and adjust their feeding schedule accordingly.
Should You Be Concerned About Baby Chewing on Nothing?
It is normal for babies to chew on things, even if they do not have anything in their mouths. They explore the world around them using their mouths and use chewing as a way to develop essential oral skills.
While it might seem weird to us, babies chewing on nothing is a very normal and important part of their oral development.
Chewing on Nothing and Reflux
Some parents have noticed their baby making more chewing motions after being diagnosed with reflux. Because chewing is a very normal part of oral development and all babies do it, it is difficult to say that it is a symptom of reflux.
However, it is very possible for it to seem like babies with reflux chew on nothing or make chewing motions more often than babies who have not been diagnosed.
This could be because of the acid in the throat causing discomfort or a weird taste in the baby’s mouth, and the chewing motion could either be their reaction or an attempt to soothe the discomfort.
Do Chewing Motions Mean That Baby Is Ready for Solid Food?
If your baby is around six months of age and begins making chewing motions, it could very well be a sign that they are ready to start eating solid food.
Younger infants have a tongue-thrust reflex that is helpful when breastfeeding or when drinking from a bottle. This reflex causes babies to automatically push food out of their mouths with their tongues.
Once babies begin showing that they are able to chew and that they have lost this reflex, they are ready to venture into the world of solid food.
What Age Does Teething Start?
A newborn baby technically already has all of her teeth. However, the rate at which they push through the gums varies from baby to baby.
Some babies may begin teething at 3 months old while others may not begin cutting teeth until closer to their first birthday.
There is no specific time that teething starts. However, on average, most babies will begin to cut teeth around the age of 6 months.
Signs of Teething Baby
“Your baby is extra fussy? Oh, she must be teething!” Once your baby reaches 6 months, it might seem like everything “magically” becomes a symptom of teething.
There are a few telling signs of teething. If your baby is showing any of the following, she could be beginning to cut teeth:
- Excessive drooling
- Red, swollen, and sore gums where teeth are coming through
- Gnawing and chewing on toys and other hard objects
- A low-grade fever
- Rash on the face
- Not sleeping very well
Best Teething Toys for Babies
As your baby begins teething, she will chew on everything she can get her hands on. There are certain teething toys designed with a particular texture that aids in teething and help soothe a baby’s sore gums.
These are great to have around the house, in the car, or in the diaper bag for when you are out and about. We’ve picked out a few of our favorites to share with you.
This is a perfect set for your teething baby. The set includes a toothbrush that will clean your baby’s teeth while she chews on it, a teether toy, and a pacifier feeder for frozen fruits and veggies.
All of the products are silicone to prevent mouth injuries and are designed to feel good on your baby’s sore gums.
It would be a great idea to have these teething toys on hand. They are easy for your little one to grip and are the perfect texture to soothe sore gums.
The ring design makes this toy super easy for babies to grip, and the cooling gel inside adds additional comfort to sore gums.
Why Do Babies Run a Fever When Teething?
Many parents have experienced their baby’s temperature elevating during teething time, and many mistakenly assume that fever is a side effect of teething.
Contrary to popular belief, teething does not cause fevers. While it can cause a slight elevation in temperature, there is no correlation between teething and a true fever.
It is important to keep in mind that teething correlates with a baby’s changing immune system and increased mobility, which results in exposure to more germs.
A baby loses their inherited immunity by 6 months of age, which is around the time that teething begins. At this age, they are also beginning to reach, move around, and put everything in their mouths.
It is normal to see an increase in colds and illnesses at this time. If your baby begins to run a fever, it is likely due to a cold or mild infection.
Teething just so happens to occur around the same time as this increase in colds and viral infections.
How Do You Stop a Baby From Biting While Nursing?
As your little one’s teeth begin to erupt and they become more distracted by the world around them, biting at the breast will become more frequent and more painful.
This is not a sign to wean from breastfeeding; rather, you may need to change the way you are nursing your baby. If you would like to continue breastfeeding, try the PACED method.
- Positioning: Aim the nipple toward the roof of the mouth, and wait for a wide-open mouth before bringing your baby in close.
- Act fast: Watch for hints that your baby is about to bite. If you feel your baby pause and tense her jaw, slide your finger in her mouth and break the suction. Gently remove her from the breast.
- Comfort: Being bitten while nursing hurts! Stopping the feeding is a mother’s natural reaction. However, your baby does not know that she hurt you and may get upset when the feeding is over. Be sure to comfort her with a cuddle and a firm “No biting!” Then, offer a teether or return to the breast if she is still rooting.
- Expression: If your baby is actively sucking, she cannot bite. If you notice your baby slowing down, try breast compressions and expressions to increase your milk flow and remind her to keep sucking.
- Distract: Talk and play with your baby. Get her to laugh for a quick release from the breast.
Wrapping It Up
We hope this information answered any questions and calmed any concerns you may have had about your baby’s new behaviors!
Parenting is a wild ride, and helping a human grow, develop, and learn comes with many unique experiences. The fact that you are here searching for answers is a sign that you are doing a great job!
Charlynn is an educator and mom to fraternal boy/girl twins. She loves learning through the experiences she has with her littles and using her knowledge to help other moms as they embark on the journey of motherhood.