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Dealing With Little Droolers

Q. Why does my 4-month-old drool so much? Do all babies do this?

A. Between 3 and 6 months of age, most babies go through a heavy drooling stage. As tiny teeth start to push their way through tender gums, the irritation stimulates saliva production. Since babies tend to make the saliva faster than they can swallow it, the result is a frequent dribble.

Believe it or not, saliva actually plays an important part in your child's growing body. It contains a substance that helps mature the intestinal lining, neutralizes stomach acid, and heals and lubricates the lining of the esophagus (which can get irritated by her frequent spitting up). It also carries enzymes that help predigest the solid food your infant will probably begin eating between 4 and 6 months.

But drool can bring on some minor annoyances. Some that you can expect from your little wet-mouthed baby:

* A red, raised rash may appear around your baby's lips and on her chin. To help ease the irritation, which may itch, gently wipe the drool off her skin with lukewarm water and pat it dry. Several times a day, including at bedtime, apply a lanolin-based barrier ointment.

* She may have a cough, caused by excess saliva puddling in the back of her throat. If you put your hand on her back or chest, you may feel (and hear) a rattle. This is due to air passing through the saliva in her throat; it's not coming from her chest. These harmless noises aren't causing your baby discomfort, so don't be concerned.

* Looser stools are common, since saliva's a natural laxative. Consequently, there may be a pronounced rash around the anus. You can apply a barrier cream that contains zinc oxide.