I find it funny that when babies hit a milestone in their lives, we adults are quick to mimic them. We clap hands, close and open our fist, and even blow spit bubbles to amuse them–and us. When infants reach three months of age, it’s not unusual to find some people blowing a raspberry at them. Or is it just me? Amusement aside, it is at this age where bibs and extra cloth wipes are indispensable in your baby essentials. Why? Because of drools.
Excessive drooling is one thing that comes naturally to babies. Sometimes, it can happen as early as two months until they are two years of age. The drool production signifies that your baby’s salivary gland is activated, and his digestive system is working great. Hence, we always associate saliva with good digestion. But since babies have not fully developed their muscles, it’s difficult for them to swallow it back. When a baby is teething, he may also drool more than usual.
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What causes excessive drooling?
The abundance of saliva or salivary reflex is a good indicator of an infant’s full gear digestive system. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, saliva serves some important functions for babies. For once, it helps babies to swallow food easily and keeps solids moist and soft. It even neutralizes stomach acid that aids in proper digestion. It also keeps his mouth moistened and protects his teeth in the process.
But why is there too much saliva, you may ask? When should you worry that your baby’s drooling needs medical attention? Here are the common causes of why babies are wetting their bibs so often.
Babies have a limited ability to swallow. Along with normal hypersecretion, it results in dribbling out their mouths. Add it to the fact that they lack the front teeth to hold it back like a dam. Also, babies’ mouths are adapted to the opening position. Hence, they cannot quite keep their lips pursed together just yet.
When the baby reaches two years of age, the muscle around his mouth becomes fully developed. During this time, he will gain full control of his swallowing reflex. His front teeth are also established. With mature oral motor function, drooling will disappear in babies.
It is normal for us to relate drooling with teething. In fact, this is the first thing that we likely associate when we see babies dripping with saliva. While it is indeed a common cause, it is only secondary to developmental reasons.
The baby’s mouth gets stimulated to produce more saliva when he is teething. It helps him soothe his tender gums as his body’s stimuli anticipate the pain. When he starts drooling a lot and exhibits other teething signs, expect an eruption of a new tooth.
Infants and toddlers may, at times, contract mouth conditions like thrush or cold sores. This will make them secrete more saliva. Thrush is a fungal infection prevalent among infants and is characterized by white patches in the mouth. Oral thrush often comes with diaper rash and gastrointestinal problems.
Lesions in the mouth due to cold sores may also cause babies to drool excessively. Although mouth sores are not common in babies, they can likely occur. When this happens, expect babies to get extra cranky and develop a swallowing difficulty.
Children usually stop drooling when they reach four years of age. To some parents, excessive drooling beyond infancy can get stigmatizing. When it happens in older children, it is sometimes due to neurological problems relating to low muscle tone.
Involuntary drooling is common in children with autism, cerebral palsy, and facial nerve palsy. So, when your three-year-old kid is still dripping saliva, it is best to consult your pediatrician. Usually, this comes with other symptoms like motor, speech, and language delay.
The good things about drooling
The human body produces around 2 to 4 pints of saliva every day, even more so in babies. Drooling in babies happens for a very good reason.
We know how soggy clothing, blanket, and bibs can get annoying. Drooling is simply messy. However, it is pretty natural, and all babies undergo this wet stage. Some kids even dribble spits more than the others. But did you know that saliva hypersecretion also has benefits for babies?
Here are some slippery saliva facts that will make you love your drooling little one:
Drooling indicates baby’s growing sense of smell
Food makes our mouth water – some with the sight of it, others with the aroma. Salivation to food cues is no different with your developing baby. When you prompt him with food, and he increases drooling, it means he has established his sense of smell. It’s the brain that sends this reaction to help his body prepare for digestion.
Saliva aids in digestion
Well, it is a long-known fact – drools contain enzymes that assist in food digestion. So, when he is at the age when he is ready for solids, his salivary gland automatically fires up. Saliva is responsible for moistening the food and binds it together for easy swallowing. It also assists the digestive system to process food smoothly, even without the baby’s chewing it.
Drool protects the gut
Recent research show how neonatal saliva and a mother’s breastmilk interaction can boost babies’ immunity. It is through a study conducted by Dr. Emma Sweeney et al., from the University of Queensland. They observed that a mixture of breastmilk and saliva inhibits the growth of microorganisms.
Imagine the disease-causing germs that lurk in your little one’s toys and stuff. So it is good to know that your baby is naturally protected. And it pays to continue breastfeeding and make the most out of its tons of benefits.
Saliva cleanses the mouth
Food debris in the mouth can cause oral health problems, even for babies. Drool plays an important function in cleaning the baby’s mouth out of it. The slight alkalinity of saliva also protects the new teeth against cavities and other gum problems. Aside from keeping the mouth’s pH balance, its enzymes also combat the harmful bacteria in the mouth.
In teething babies, excessive saliva secretion also helps soothe their tender gums. But do not expect your three-month old’s teeth to pop out soon. Babies would usually grow their first tooth at around six months of age.
Saliva protects the teeth
Early tooth decay is inevitable. Once your baby starts eating solid foods, the possibility spikes up. Sugary and acidic foods may take up some part of his diet. But the saliva’s alkalinity helps buffer the acid. It prevents demineralization of the enamel once his teeth come out.
It is important to note that saliva does not kill the bacteria in the mouth. It simply prevents it from building up in the gums and teeth. Yes, drooling is all good for your baby’s growing teeth. But don’t forget to encourage good oral hygiene and start him on a healthy diet early on.
The nasty side of drool – rashes
You are okay with a few clothing changes for your baby throughout the day. But what worries moms most is the presence of rashes that comes along with the frequent wetness. The excess moisture oftentimes led to redness around the baby’s mouth or skin that comes in contact with it.
There is nothing you can do about it other than ensuring that his mouth remains dry to ward off the irritation. Use a soft cloth and gently dab (never rub) it on the wet surface. The bib is your handy helper during this phase in your baby’s life.
Since drooling never stops even when the baby sleeps, applying ointment may help. Your pediatrician can help you out with the right product.
When should I worry about drooling?
If your baby has a steady and unusual stream of drool, have your baby checked. If he has trouble breathing and turning blue along with it, take him to the emergency room. These signs may indicate choking.
My child has no special needs, but still dribbles occasionally. What should I do?
Your child may have a problem with swallowing because of poor coordination. Sometimes, doctors recommend using an oral appliance to help him out with this and decrease the drooling.
It’s a device that manages tongue positioning and proper lip closure. If he has a weak jaw, therapy might help resolve the issue.
Will medication cause drooling?
Yes, drooling is sometimes a side effect of certain medications that the baby takes. Even drugs that the breastfeeding mother is taking can also cause hypersalivation in breastfed babies. This may include medicine for seizures and sleep-inducing and pain-relief pills.
Drooling is a part of your baby’s developmental milestone, although some parents are unaware of it. They would mostly relate it to teething signs. While this is true, teething is not always the root cause of a baby’s excessive drooling, especially not on a 3-month-old. It is so much more than just his growing teeth.
Eventually, they will outgrow this stage when their oral motor is in full function. If your older kid has uncontrolled drooling after the age of four, then it is best to consult your physician.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.