Babies begin drooling at about 3 months of age, according to pediatrician Howard Bennett. Some babies drool a little bit; other babies seem to drool constantly. If you find yourself changing your baby's outfit several times a day or going through numerous bibs in an attempt to keep her dry, you may worry that her drooling is excessive. In most cases, however, your baby's salivation is a normal part of her physical development.
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When Drooling Begins
Drooling begins at approximately 3 months because this is when the parotid glands -- the large salivary glands, which are activated by eating -- mature. At this age, babies also develop the ability to chew as well as the muscle control to get their hands into their mouths, both of which stimulate saliva production. However, babies haven't learned how to swallow their saliva yet. When they start gnawing on their hands or toys, the saliva trickles out of their mouths as drool.
Infant saliva provides a number of benefits for your baby. Once he starts eating solid foods, saliva washes away bacteria and food particles that can cause tooth decay. It aids digestion by breaking down carbohydrates your baby eats. Saliva contains a growth factor that, when swallowed, helps the intestines mature. It even helps babies suffering from infant reflux, where their stomach contents reenter the esophagus. Saliva helps neutralize stomach acid, and it protects the lining of the esophagus from irritation.
While drooling is a normal behavior for babies, excessive saliva production can signal another problem. When your baby starts teething, she may drool more than usual, partly because chewing on objects -- which increases saliva production -- relieves teething pain. Babies with generalized developmental delays may also drool excessively if the muscles they use for swallowing are impaired. Because your baby doesn't swallow well, more saliva remains in her mouth or dribbles out of it.
If your baby develops a complication from excessive drooling, prompt treatment can help him quickly feel better. Saliva leaking out of your baby's mouth can irritate the sensitive skin on his chin, neck or chest, creating a bumpy, red rash. To treat a drool rash, carefully wash the inflamed skin, pat it dry and soothe it with a lanolin ointment. Swallowing large amounts of saliva can also give your baby watery stools, diarrhea and, ultimately, a diaper rash. Using an emollient ointment on your baby's body can help heal his skin and help prevent further irritation.