It can be quite shocking for parents if their baby or toddler starts biting themselves or others. They often wonder what is causing the behaviour and become worried that something is very wrong, when actually it is more common than people realise and it can be linked to sensory processing difficulties.
Biting into something provides essential deep pressure input to the jaw muscles and tactile input to the mouth. This is important because the oral sensory input that comes from biting down hard on something can be very regulating and soothing for the nervous system. Therefore when a baby or small child bites themselves or others this action can be a way for them to get a form of sensory input that helps them to feel calm and feels good to their nervous system. It isn’t as painful to the child as it might appear and it can be related to sensory under- registration where the infant is seeking more sensory input in this area. It may also be a way for them to regulate their system in a stressful situation or if they are feeling overwhelmed. Parents often comment that their child bites when they are angry or frustrated, but this is also satisfying a sensory need – giving them a sense of calm and a way to self regulate.
The mouth is a key area of exploration and learning in infants under 18 months, and as you have probably noticed babies of this age put everything in their mouth – psychologically it has been referred to as the oral stage of development. From a sensory perspective rooting and sucking dominate in this stage of development and therefore the mouth is the key area of discovery. Having worked with lots of different babies in many groups it is clear that some babies need more input than others and in order to satisfy this need they bite down harder than usual to get the feedback they require. They may also start biting down harder on things when they are teething, which is completely normal, but some babies find they like the sensory input it gives and keep doing it. These babies would most likely benefit from an oral sensory tool to give them that bit more input.
At Encounter Baby, we can help you understand your baby’s unique sensory needs and support you to give them a strong foundation in this area of development. We can also help with any feeding issues related to oral sensitivities and suggest which sensory interventions may be best for your child.