Baby Chewing With Nothing in Mouth | 7 Common Reasons Why

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

It is completely natural for your infant to gnaw while having nothing in their mouth.

The chewing motion is a natural part of an infant’s oral development as they explore the world around them and begin the teething process.  

Specific causes can include:

  • The sucking reflex and self-soothing behavior.
  • Communicating hunger.
  • Mouth exploration and learning to use the tongue.
  • Teething.
  • Mimicking others’ chewing.
  • Exercising jaw muscles.

According to Western Kids Health:

“A baby’s mouth is their window to the world and mouthing allows babies to experience their world like no other activity.

This is because the sensations in a baby’s mouth are more highly developed than any other part of their little body.” 

When To Be Concerned About Baby Chewing on Nothing

While it might seem strange to us, babies chewing on nothing is a very normal and important part of their oral development. 

Even though it isn’t typically a reason for concern, be mindful of how much air your child is swallowing by making chewing or sucking motions.

Swallowing excess air can lead to more gas buildup in your child’s stomach, which can cause pain in the abdomen.

If you notice that your baby is chewing on air a lot, it wouldn’t hurt to burp them more often to release any excess gas that may have been swallowed. 

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.

Chewing is a very normal part of development, and there are several explanations for this new behavior. 

I remember being slightly concerned when I saw my newborn chewing air and making sucking motions without anything in her mouth.

However, her doctor explained that it is a very normal and crucial part of her development. 

1. Suckling Reflex and Self-Soothing

While in the womb, babies develop many instinctive reflexes that will help them to survive once they are born.

These reflexes include the rooting reflex as well as sucking and chewing. 

These are all 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.

Sucking and chewing on the tongue release dopamine and serotonin to help calm the mind.

Babies will often chew or suck on anything in order to satisfy the need to suckle and self-soothe. 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 chewing with nothing in their mouth quite as often. 

2. 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 might 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. 

3. Mouth Exploration

The chewing motion may become 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, chewing, and 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 for, grasp, and mouth other objects more intentionally. 

Mouthing helps a baby 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. 

4. Learning To Control Tongue

If you notice your little one chewing on her tongue, it could be that she is simply discovering her tongue in her mouth.

Babies are constantly discovering new things about their bodies and how to use them.

As a baby becomes 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

5. 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 this behavior 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.

6. 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.

Babies 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. 

7. Teething

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 tongues as they try to soothe the discomfort in their gums.

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 chewing 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. 

How Chewing Motions Relate to Readiness 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. 

Age Teething Starts

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: 

  • Irritability
  • 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 aid 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. 

SHARE&CARE Baby Teething Toys

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.

Sperric Easy-Grip Teething Toys

These teething toys are great to have on hand. They are easy for your little one to grip and are the perfect texture to soothe sore gums. 

Nuby Ice Gel Teether Keys

The ring design makes this toy super easy for babies to grip, and the cooling gel inside adds additional comfort to sore gums.