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Baby sucking on their hand? You’ll be surprised what’s behind this odd behavior

If your baby is sucking on their hand, it’s not surprising at all. According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 90% of newborns already show some form of hand sucking by just two hours after birth. It’s a perfectly normal and common behavior in babies that’s not a problem. (If they’re still thumb-sucking years down the road, that’s another story.)

But what causes it?

There are many reasons your baby could be sucking on their hands. Let’s find out why.

Baby chewing hand

Why is my baby chewing on his hands?

There are many reasons babies chew on their hands.

Hunger

One reason babies put their hands in their mouths is that they are hungry. They begin sucking on their hands when they want to suck on a bottle or breast. It’s one of the most common hunger cues.

Self-soothing

Another reason babies suck on their hands is as a self-soothing method. It’s like using their fingers as a pacifier. Sucking is one of the most soothing reflexes and actions for babies, since it’s associated with feeding, which is relaxing and comforting mentally and physically for them. They feel safe and satisfied being fed and they have often started practicing this reflex in utero, so it feels familiar.

Teething

At 4 to 7 months old, babies may chew on their hands because they are starting to teethe. Yes, that early! As teeth start to move down toward coming out of the gums, chewing feels good to put counter-pressure against the sore gums. If your baby doesn’t have a teething toy handy, he’ll use his hand as one. You can offer silicone teething toys that have been in the refrigerator as hand alternatives for teething relief.

Baby sucking on hand

Does baby chewing on hands mean she’s hungry?

It can! As mentioned previously, putting their hands to their mouths is one of many hunger cues for babies. It’s actually first in the CDC’s list of hunger cues for babies zero to 5 months old, followed by turning head to breast or bottle, smacking or licking lips, and having clenched hands. It’s a natural sucking instinct — whenever they are drinking milk, they are sucking, so they start sucking on the only thing available to them… their hand. It’s like wishful thinking!

However, as mentioned above, there are many reasons babies chew on their hands and hunger isn’t the only one. Think about when they last ate to clue you into if your baby sucking on their hand is a hunger cue or something else. Don’t feed your baby immediately every time they chew on their hands or you may overfeed them, since there are so many other things this behavior could be indicating.

Why do babies eat their hands?

Besides hunger, self-soothing, and teething, babies might eat their hands simply out of boredom. If they have nothing around them to do or hold, they might be playing with their hands because that’s all that’s available and they want to always be doing something. They also might be excited that they’ve discovered their hands and be exploring them. You may notice them find their feet at some point, too, and even put their feet in their mouth.

If your baby is chewing on their hands, see if offering milk, a toy, or a teether satisfies them. It may be a clue that they want one of those things. They also may be perfectly content as they are.

Since drooling often goes hand in hand with this behavior, consider getting some drool bandanas, so your baby isn’t sitting in soggy clothes and you don’t have to change their outfits often.

While your baby is in their hand-eating stage, make sure you keep their hands clean and their nails trimmed and clean, so that they aren’t putting themselves at any risk. (Remember that teething bracelets are a serious health risk.)

Pediatricians and dentists say not to worry about this habit until they are older toddlers, and there’s nothing about this behavior to worry about besides putting objects in their mouths. They often naturally grow out of it and it’s a typical developmental stage.

Of course, if you feel the chewing is excessive and are concerned, always check with your pediatrician whenever your gut says something is off. Also, if you find yourself worrying too much about normal behaviors, you can talk to your own doctor about postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Whether any of those situations apply to you, now you know the reasons why babies suck on their hands.

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