Baby chewing hands after feed

Why Do Babies Like Chewing on Their Hands?

Why do babies chew on their hands?

Seeing your baby chew on their hand can seem rather disconcerting. Are they hungry? Do their hands hurt or itch? Are they teething? If only they could answer your questions and tell you what’s going on! Unfortunately, that’s not an option. So instead, we have to turn to the experts for answers.

Most pediatricians agree that your baby is chewing on their hands simply because they have found them. Babies aren’t born knowing the parts of their bodies or how to control them. But after a few months, they’ll eventually “find” their own hands and realize that those hands are attached to the rest of their body. Putting their hands in their mouth and chewing on them is simply another step in the process of discovering their own bodies, how they work, and what they can do.

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Your baby is chewing on their hands.

Is it teething?

If your baby starts to chew on their hands when they’re about four to seven months old, it could be a sign that they’re teething. Their first teeth beginning to break through their gum tissue causes some discomfort. This discomfort causes them to bite on different things, including their hands, to scratch their gums and find relief. Teething is usually accompanied by other signs and symptoms, most commonly:

  • Increased drooling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen gums
  • Fussiness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Other babies might chew on their hands when they’re hungry. Other early signs of hunger include:

  • Smacking their lips
  • Flailing their limbs
  • Fussiness
  • Crying
  • Rooting

If you’re wondering whether your baby is “eating” their hands because they’re hungry, think about when you last fed them. If your baby isn’t hungry, they could be chewing their hands as a simple game. 

Other babies chew on their hands as a form of self-soothing, which is a sign that they’re developing well. This could happen when they’re overstimulated and need to calm down. They could also play with their hands when they’re bored and can’t engage with anyone but themselves. 

Should you do something when your baby is “eating” their hands?

If you’re concerned about your baby chewing on their hand, try to figure out what is causing it. The easiest thing to do is to check whether they’re hungry. If they take your breastmilk or a bottle when offered, and stop chewing their hands once they’re fed, hunger was probably the cause.

If your baby isn’t hungry and they’re still chewing on their hands, there could be other factors at play. If they’re simply playing with their hands and discovering their bodies, it’s important to keep in mind that they’ll probably be reaching for objects and taking them to their mouths soon. 

In this case, you should try to create a childproof environment at home. This means making sure that sharp, toxic, small, or otherwise dangerous objects are out of your baby’s reach. Make sure that they can only grab objects that are safe to chew.

When a newborn is sucking their hand because they are bored, try engaging them with sounds, music, figures, or colors. Or if they’re overstimulated, you could cuddle them in a quiet room for a bit or play some soothing music. You can also provide a pacifier for them.

If your child is chewing on their hand because they’re teething, there are several tips that could help relieve their discomfort. There are many teething toys available on the market.

Some of the most popular models include teething rings, some of which are filled with water that can be chilled in the fridge. The cool water can help relieve your baby’s aching gums. Other products, such as teething gels, can numb their gums and relieve teething symptoms.

Excessive hand chewing might also be a symptom of oral thrush. Other symptoms of thrush include mood changes, refusing to nurse, and having white velvety sores in the mouth and on the tongue. If that’s the case, contact your health care provider. 

It’s important to keep in mind that in many cases, it’s perfectly normal for your baby to chew on their hand. While it’s normal to be concerned as a new parent, there is no need to worry about these behaviors. 

If you fear you’re worrying too much, can’t bond with your baby, or are worried about your feelings as a new parent, talk to your health care provider about postpartum depression. With help and treatment, you’ll soon be feeling like your old self again.

When should newborns stop sucking their hands?

Every child develops differently and will learn to stop sucking on their hands at a different age. Some babies never do this, while others love their pacifiers, and others continue to suck their hands even after their first birthday.

If you’re worried about your baby sucking on their hand, talk to your pediatrician about it. They’ll be able to address any concerns and help you stop this behavior when your baby is a bit older. When your child is 18–24 months old, you’ll probably have an easier time trying to break this habit.

It’s normal to worry when your baby does things you can’t understand. Your baby could be chewing their hand for many reasons, from simple boredom to self-soothing, hunger, or teething. 

Regardless of the cause, this is a very common behavior that most babies exhibit at some point during their first months of life. In most cases, it’s perfectly normal and your baby will grow out of it with time!

Reasons, Dangers, How to Deal With It

Babies suck their thumbs, right? It’s like a quintessential part of being a baby. But what if your baby is sucking on their whole hand, fist, or their other fingers… is that normal?

The short answer: Yes. The long answer? Well, that’s yes, too, plus some additional explanation. Everything a baby does is basically a way of communicating. So, if your baby’s spending a lot of time sucking on their hand, they’re probably trying to tell you something.

Here’s how to figure out what that “something” is.

To understand why your baby is sucking on their hand(s), you’ll have to do a little detective work. The reason will depend on how old they are and what other developmental phases they’re going through. Here are the most common explanations.


In the newborn months, a baby who sucks their hand may be trying to tell you they’re hungry. Think about it: Every time they suck on a bottle or nipple, they get food! It’s a natural sucking instinct, similar to rooting, meant to clue you in that it’s time for another feeding.

Most of a newborn baby’s hunger cues, in fact, involve their mouth. according to WIC Breastfeeding Support, your baby may also open and close their mouth or smack their lips to let you know they are ready to eat.


OK, but what if you juuuust fed your baby and you know they’re pretty full?

In this case, sucking on their hand may be a sign of self-soothing. Young babies often fall asleep on the breast or bottle, so they may come to associate the sucking reflex with the initial stages of sleep and suck on their hand to help them relax and wind down.

You may also see older babies — in the 7 to 8-month range — sucking on hands or fingers for the same reason: It produces a calming sensation that relaxes them.

If you notice your baby sucks on their hand during times of stress (such as when meeting new people or feeling under the weather), it’s probably a self-soothing strategy.


Most babies begin teething between 4 and 7 months old, so while you can probably rule this out for a newborn, it could definitely be causing your older baby to suck on their hands, fists, or fingers. Their gums hurt and rubbing something against those sore spots feels good!

If your baby has been drooling a ton, acting more irritable than usual, or having more frequent wakings, it’s probably safe to assume teething is to blame (and you have our condolences, because that is not a fun phase).


Sure, it may sound weird that hands could be a source of entertainment, but to a young baby (think 2 or 3 months old), hands are freaking fascinating. And you know what’s even more fascinating? Realizing you can control them!

Babies this age are just starting to figure out they have these super useful tools attached to their bodies that they can wave around, pick things up with, and stick in their mouth.

They’re also figuring out their senses and learning that different things have different tastes, textures, and temperatures. This is all ridiculously interesting for new humans.


Newborns typically have a busy schedule full of eating, pooping, crying, and sleeping. But once your baby starts spending a little more time awake every day, they might experience a totally new sensation: Boredom.

It’s healthy for your baby to spend some supervised time outside of your arms, like in a bouncy seat or play pen. Eventually, though, they’ll get tired of hanging out away from you.

A baby who sucks on their hand may be sending a self-soothing cue that they need a change of scenery.

There’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about your baby sucking on their hand or fingers. You should, however, make sure that:

  • your baby’s hands are clean
  • they aren’t in any pain or discomfort
  • the general environment around them is safe and comfortable

Some people worry that their baby’s thumb- or hand-sucking will interfere with oral development. The good news is that the American Dental Association (ADA) reassures parents that the behavior doesn’t usually cause problems in the first few years of life.

The experts say that it’s only after age 4 that you may want to start gently discouraging the habit to avoid future problems with the mouth.

You don’t really have to do much of anything when your baby is sucking on their hand — except feed them if it’s a hunger cue! Still, we did tell you that it’s a form of nonverbal communication, so how you respond depends on what your baby is telling you.

  • A baby who has recently discovered their hands isn’t that far from finding other objects lying around them, so make sure you’ve babyproofed. Reaching out to grab things is probably one of their next developmental stages. This is also a prime opportunity to introduce them to fun sensory toys like rattles, crinkly stuffies, and cloth books.
  • If your baby is sucking their hand because of teething pain, offer them a teething toy, cold washcloth, or frozen feeder. You may also choose to give them a safe over-the-counter medication, like infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as needed, especially if teething is interfering with their sleep.
  • Hand-sucking to self-soothe or relieve boredom isn’t an urgent situation, but you don’t want your baby to become distressed. Try to think about the root cause. Are they having trouble falling asleep on their own? Have they gotten overstimulated? Is it time to babywear instead of relying on the pack ‘n play? In these cases, a pacifier might be a useful swap, too.

Yep! Babies move quickly from one phase to the next, so it won’t be long before they’ve found something else to hold their attention — like their toes! Plus, as their language develops, they’ll be able to communicate their needs and wants with gestures and, eventually, words.

If they’re just a plain ol’ hand- or thumb-sucker, they’ll likely grow out of that, too. Most kids drop the habit between the ages of 2 and 4, leaving only a small percentage of kids still thumb-sucking after that.

If your baby turns into a preschooler and they’re still sucking on their hands or fingers, you should speak to your child’s pediatrician. Generally, it’s not productive to force your child to stop before they’re 4 years old, but there are ways you can redirect your child to help break the habit.

If your child is over the age of 4 and still sucking on their hands, you may want to also make an appointment with a pediatric dentist to track your child’s oral development.

If your newborn baby is constantly sucking on their hands and you think it’s a hunger cue, you may want to talk to your pediatrician as well. It’s possible that your baby isn’t getting as much breast milk as you think, leaving them hungry all the time, or that there’s a problem with their latch or sucking reflex.

The vast majority of the time, there’s nothing to worry about when a baby sucks on their hand, fist, or fingers. There are several reasons, all developmentally normal — and unless it looks like your “baby” will be going to kindergarten with their thumb stuck in their mouth, it probably won’t cause oral problems, either.

Child sucking fingers

Lately, pediatricians and psychologists agree that a finger in the mouth is, first of all, an unsatisfied sucking instinct.

Sucking reflex

By the way, one observant mother noticed an interesting thing. Her son is on a mixed diet - that is, along with breast milk, he is fed formula milk from a bottle. So, the child copes with the bottle much faster than with his mother's breast, and after that he immediately pulls his fist into his mouth. This example is a vivid illustration of the fact that thumb sucking is required by a nursing infant precisely in order to satisfy the sucking reflex. In babies, whom the mother breastfeeds for a long time (and not according to the regimen, but on demand), such a habit, as a rule, is not observed. nine0003

The fact is that for a baby, the concepts of "suck" and "exist" are very close. They suck not only for saturation, but also for development. Studies have shown that when sucking, natural processes that have been debugged for centuries are launched: nutrients are absorbed, digestion improves, the brain develops, and the child feels psychological comfort.

What mechanism is responsible for sucking? In no other part of the body is there an outlet for such powerful receptors as in the mouth. The best that nature has come up with for the development of these systems is the mother's breast. That is why it is so important that the baby can get it at his first request. nine0003

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to look for a replacement breast. Of course, a bundle with a crumb of bread (as in the days of our great-grandmothers) or modern “correct” orthodontic pacifiers are just a pitiful semblance of a warm mother’s breast. But, alas, to some extent they are necessary if your baby is bottle-fed.

Another way to satisfy the sucking reflex, which is literally always at hand, is with your own finger. But dentists and speech therapists unanimously argue that sucking a pacifier, and in particular, a finger, leads to palate deformity, the formation of an abnormal bite, and poor closing of teeth. Thumb-sucking babies often have their teeth growing in a specific way, with the top teeth protruding forward and the bottom teeth growing back a little. nine0003

What to do? On the one hand, this habit is natural and logical, but on the other hand, it is harmful, and we have to fight it.

Why does a child suck his thumb?

There may be several reasons.

  • Breastfeeding babies often suck their fingers before or after feeding as a sign that they are already hungry or haven't sucked yet. After all, the baby eats the main portion of milk in the first 5-10 minutes, and the rest of the time they suck just “for pleasure”, squeezing the milk drop by drop. If the baby puts his fingers in his mouth after breastfeeding, you may be holding him at the breast less than he needs. nine0026
  • The child is teething - and then with special enthusiasm he pulls into his mouth everything that comes to hand.
  • At an older age, a child may suck his thumb if he lacks parental love and affection.
  • Sometimes thumb sucking becomes a sedative - this is how the baby instinctively relieves excessive excitement or calms himself before bedtime.
  • Your child may just be bored.

How not to stop thumb sucking

The "ingenuity" of some parents simply knows no bounds. They:

  • smear their children's fingers with mustard, aloe juice, cover them with a special bitter varnish;
  • tie handles and bandage fingers;
  • put on (and sometimes sewn to the shirt so that it can not be removed) woolen mittens.

These are quite cruel ways that bring a lot of suffering to the crumbs. And, most importantly, they cease to act as soon as the parents stop repressive measures. And everything goes back to normal. nine0003

The constant shouting “take your finger out of your mouth” is also useless - from some point on, children simply stop responding to them, this is a kind of defensive reaction of the body to a habit that is important for the body for one reason or another. Moreover, threats and punishments sometimes lead to the opposite result. After all, as we found out, the child often sucks his finger to calm down. This means that in a stressful situation for himself (namely, shouts and punishments lead to stress), the baby will strive with a vengeance to somehow calm himself - with the help of sucking. nine0003

How to break the habit of sucking your thumb

  • If it is an infant under one year old, try increasing the sucking time. You can simply offer the breast more often to the baby and keep it longer (30-40 minutes). With artificials it is more difficult - you will have to choose a nipple from which it will be quite difficult to suck, in this case, the baby will need more time to absorb the same portion of the mixture than before. Ideally, this should take about twenty minutes. It may be worth adding another feeding, over time it will be canceled. nine0026
  • If your baby is past breastfeeding and is suckling mostly for self-soothing, find other ways to soothe him. For example, if he is upset, teach him to express his feelings in words, hug him, caress him, read an interesting book together. Sometimes children put their fingers in their mouths in a repetitive situation, such as while watching TV. In this case, find an adequate replacement - slip him a small rubber ball or other toy that you can knead with your fingers. nine0026
  • It is important that the hands are busy with something. Speech therapists and psychologists get tired of repeating the benefits of developing fine motor skills - this is very important for the development of speech. Let the kid fiddle with clay, pebbles, sand, assemble a designer from fairly small parts, put together mosaics or puzzles.
  • Little fashionista will appreciate the first "real" manicure, just like her mother's. Perhaps she does not want to spoil such beauty?
  • Sometimes it helps to visit the dentist, who will tell the child about the dangers of sucking fingers. This is a person who is quite authoritative for the baby, and he will confirm that parental requirements are not their empty whim. nine0026
  • Focus the child's attention on the fact that, having stopped sucking his thumb, he will be quite an adult. This habit is permissible only for the smallest, and for such a respectable young man or adult girl, it is simply unacceptable. By the way, most children actually wean themselves from this habit between the ages of two and four.

Inessa Smyk


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Reasons why a child sucks his thumb

From the moment a child is born until the time when he becomes an adult, the life of his parents is a continuous series of exciting happy events and experiences. They first deal with an adorable baby who mostly sleeps and eats. But the baby is growing, and he has certain features. One of the most common childhood habits is perhaps the most incomprehensible to moms and dads: almost all babies suck their thumbs. Why? Let's figure it out.

Causes of the thumb sucking habit

According to the information provided on the NEN Parent Community website, thumb sucking is an absolutely natural activity for a baby. Until a certain age, sucking movements are directly associated with the process of breastfeeding or bottle feeding. By making such movements, the child shows that he is hungry. When a baby begins to explore the world around him, sucking his thumb makes him feel safe. In toddlers, some babies continue to suck on their thumb to calm down or fall asleep faster. nine0003

Impact of thumb sucking on tooth development

The main concern of parents is whether this habit will continue in the child when permanent teeth begin to appear. Thumb sucking can affect a baby's oral development, tooth alignment, and palate formation. However, everything here depends mainly on how actively and often the child sucks his thumb. If the baby just sometimes holds his finger in his mouth, the likelihood of dental problems is much lower than if the child constantly sucks his finger intensively, with considerable effort. nine0003

Should I be worried?

Dentists advise parents to listen to the sound that occurs when the baby takes his finger out of his mouth. Specific cotton indicates that the child sucks his thumb too intensively. You hear a similar but quieter sound when you take a pacifier out of your baby's mouth. It should be noted that pacifier sucking can have the same effects as thumb sucking, but to a lesser extent, as pacifier babies tend to suck less aggressively. Many children themselves give up the habit of sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four. nine0003

How to wean a child from sucking his thumb

If the child continues to suck his thumb, do not rush to start an uncompromising struggle with this habit. The less categorical your prohibitions are, the easier it will be for the baby to give up this activity, and the problem will disappear by itself. If it doesn't, try the following: