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

Is your baby sucking on their hand a cute behavior or something you should worry about?

A lot of little ones suck their thumbs. So, if your baby is sucking on their hand, it’s not surprising at all. According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 90% of newborns show some form of hand sucking 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 prefers to suckle on their hands. Let’s find out why your precious peanut won’t keep their hand out of their mouth and if any of those should make you try to break their habit.

A mother taking her baby's hands out of their mouth.

Does a baby chewing on hands mean they’re hungry?

It can! 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 for babies. Whenever they are drinking milk, they are suckling, so they start sucking on the only thing available to them… their hand.

However, there are many other reasons babies chew on their hands. Think about when baby 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 though, since there are a few other things this behavior could be indicating.

A baby sucking on their hand.

Why is my baby chewing on their hands?

If you do want to try getting your baby to stop putting their hands in their mouth, it’s a good idea to know why they are doing it in the first place.

Hunger

Sometimes babies are pretty simple creatures. 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 they use this as a self-soothing method. It’s like using their fingers as a pacifier. Sucking is one of the most soothing reflexes for babies since it’s associated with feeding. This action is relaxing and comforting mentally and physically for them. They feel safe and satisfied after being fed (don’t we all) and they often start 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 the gums, chewing puts 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 painful gum relief.

Boredom

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, their hands are the next best thing to a toy.

First time discovery

They also might be excited that they’ve discovered their hands for the first time and want to experiment with them. You may notice them find their feet at some point, too, and even put their feet in their mouth. It looks way more adorable than it sounds, we promise.

A baby with one of their hands in their mouth.

Keep their hands clean and dry

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 so often. While your baby is in their hand-eating stage, make sure you keep their hands clean and their nails trimmed, so that they aren’t putting themselves in any risky bacteria situations or scratching their face up.

Of course, if you feel the chewing is excessive and are concerned, check with your pediatrician. Also, if you find yourself worrying too much about certain behaviors, talk to your own doctor about postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

Pediatricians and dentists say not to worry about this habit until they are older toddlers. Your baby is going to put things in their mouth anyway, so it might as well be their own hand. They often naturally grow out of it and it’s a typical developmental stage.

Some kids are thumb suckers, some chew on their clothing, and some can’t keep their pudgy hands out of their mouths. It’s all a part of being a baby and learning the ropes of life. Know that this behavior is common, normal, and just means your babe is a regular baby doing regular baby things.

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