Newborn Baby Hands - What are they trying to tell you?

Newborn baby hands
Many breastfeeding mothers and nursing parents of newborns find themselves battling little hands that seem determined to go in the baby’s mouth while parents are trying to help them latch onto the breast.

Why do babies put their hands in their mouths?
It is not to drive you crazy, although it might feel that way.

  • Ultrasounds show that your baby has been putting his hands in his mouth since he was still in utero. This movement happened while your baby was swallowing amniotic fluid. So your baby has learned to put his hands in his mouth when he wants to swallow. This is one reason why he sucks on his fist when he is hungry.
     
  • Your baby may also suck on her hands to calm herself before reaching for the nipple and latching.
     
  • If your baby’s face is not touching your breast, she will try to use her hands to find your nipple and bring it closer to her mouth. Babies have poor eyesight at birth. They must use all five senses, including touch, to find your breast and get the nipple into their mouth.

Other ways babies use their hands

  • If your baby is lying on your body, but is not near your nipple, he may use his hands to push away so he can move himself in search of your breast.
     
  • The massage-like hand movements that your baby makes on your breast and areola cause the nipple to become firm and can make it stick out more. This can make it easier for your baby to latch.
     
  • Your baby may use his hands to shape your nipple before latching.

How to deal with those waving and grabbing hands?

Try a laid-back breastfeeding position, allowing your baby’s hands to touch your breast. Swaddling or tucking your baby’s hands under a blanket can make your baby more frantic because his hands and arms are constrained.

Bring your baby belly to belly with you. If your baby’s arm is across his body it will push him further away from your breast. It can be helpful to place each of your baby’s arms on either side of your breast.

Bring your baby to the breast so her chin is touching below the nipple and your nipple pointing to the space between the mouth and nose. This will help orient your baby to where the breast is. This position triggers your baby to open her mouth wide. Allow your baby to plant her lower lip on your breast well away from the nipple. In a laid-back position gravity will help her lower lip to stay firmly in place as she reaches up for a good latch. (Try it yourself. Imagine you are eating a burger. Tip your head back, open your mouth, lay the bottom of the burger on your lower jaw. Then reach up and over the top of the burger with your upper jaw for a big bite. This is what your baby needs to do at the breast.) See the LLLC article Positioning and Latching for more information.

If you find yourself with sore nipples or you feel that you just can’t get everything coordinated to help baby latch, please contact a La Leche League Canada Leader for information and support. Talking things over with an experienced breastfeeding supporter can be very helpful.

Please consider supporting LLLC.

References:
Kaplan, Robin. (2012, April 17). An Interview with Catherine Genna Watson. Lactation Matters, the ILCA blog.

Updated 2022