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Why Does Evolution Favor Babies Putting Stuff In Their Mouths?

"My name is Georgia. I eat things. Lots of things."

As the mother of five children, I can tell you from first-hand observation that some babies are simply mouthier than others. While all babies over the age of about six months use their mouths to explore the world around them, some babies are more prone than others to actively suck up and attempt to swallow every single item they happen to encounter that doesn’t also happen to be nailed down.

Baby G is one of those mouthy kinds of babies.At ten months old, G is what we call an “active” baby. She keeps us hopping.  I don’t mean that she’s a fussy or high needs kinda gal; no, in fact she’s just about the jolliest little person you could ever hope to meet. She has a high tolerance for frustration, and she likes everyone. She’s outgoing, chatty, self confident and sweet.

But she never. stops. moving.

Now that she can get around, she is just hell on wheels at all times. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, her sole purpose in life these days seems to be to crawl away as quickly as possible from wherever you’ve placed her, and to locate and devour anything in her path. In fact, she now joins her 13 year old big brother E as the only two babies in our family for whom it has become necessary to actually set up a playpen.

The playpen is required to contain her within it any time an adult cannot be watching her like a hawk. Even if I have to quickly run in another room to grab something, answer the phone, or turn off the stove, I do not feel safe leaving her alone – not even for 15 seconds. Because no matter how carefully I have scanned the floor in the room where she is sitting, she WILL find the one tiny, almost invisible item that I somehow missed, and she WILL make a beeline for it, and get it into her mouth before I can stop her. She’s just that fast and just that focused on her goal. It’s pretty damn impressive, really.

I have already had several terrifying near misses with things ending up in G’s mouth, including a marble, a Barbie shoe, and a large clump of chokeable dog hair. In all 3 cases, I noticed she was mouthing something in an odd way,  and I fished it out from between her gums at the last moment before potential disaster struck. These scary, almost-choking incidents have had me thinking about the evolutionary value of babies stuffing things into their mouths. Like I said before, ALL babies do this, even if they don’t do it with the singleminded determination that G does. And the fact is that babies who stick stuff in their mouths – AKA: all babies – are at high risk for choking or poisoning themselves. This universal baby-habit is just plain dangerous.

So why does Mother Nature allow human infants to continue to take these obvious risks? Why are human infants driven by biology to do something that could easily kill them?

It turns out that some evolutionary biologists suggest that the value in this particular baby activity comes with the dirt and germs that also end up in babies’ mouths, along with the legos and the dead bugs.  By ingesting dirt and germs, and yes, even worms ())))shudder((((), babies are actually innoculating themselves against future disease and allergies by building up their immune systems. This theory even has a name – “the hygeine hypothesis.”

So that answers my question about the evolutionary value of an otherwise intrinsically dangerous baby behavior.  Very interesting. Fascinating, actually. And I’d love to discuss it further with y’all, but right now I need to go chase down G and pull her teenage sister’s giant hoop earring out of her mouth….

So what’s the grossest or most alarming thing you’ve ever fished out of your baby’s mouth (or toddler’s mouth)? If you have more than one child, was one kid much “mouthier” than another? Tell me in the comments below.


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