I was aware of a baby’s obsession with thumb sucking but never with hand chewing, which added to my concern. My little one’s obsession with his hands started at the age of 3 months. At first, I ignored it, but it grew into an addiction, as every time I tried getting his hand out of his mouth he would start crying non-stop. This had me worried sick. Is he hungry? Is he hurting somewhere? Is he teething? A lot of questions started popping up in my mind, which I had no answer to. So, I decided to find a logical explanation for this behavior and tips on dealing with this obsession of my son, and here’s what I found.
According to the experts, babies start chewing on their hands because it’s their first discovery about themselves. Babies are neither aware of their body parts, nor do they know how to control them. So, after a few months, they start discovering their bodies with their hands. According to Sahira Long, the Medical Director of Children’s Health Center Anacostia in Washington, D.C, Babies start their expedition of discovery by exploring mouths, and hands act as the best tool available to do so. Another, a lot more logical explanation for this obsession, is that your baby must have started teething. The reason why your baby could be chewing on hands, is that hands are very helpful for the teething process, and it’s the only available tool for them at that point which is with them 24/7. The whole process of putting their hands inside the mouth is a mere effort of discovering and controlling their body parts. Pediatricians advise parents to not get concerned about the little unconventional things that their babies do because they are part of their growth. To get accustomed to the new world babies need to discover as much as possible, with bodies being the first step in that direction. Pediatricians like to call this, a first milestone for the baby as he learns hand-to-mouth connection, through sucking or chewing on hands.
Why do babies suck or chew on their hands?
To understand the reason why your baby is obsessed with chewing or sucking on his hands, you’ll need to do a little bit of research on your part. Sometimes these reasons will depend more on the age or the developmental phase your little one is going through. Here are the best logical explanations as to why babies suck or chew on their hands.
We know that babies tend to suck their thumbs and, in this case, their hands, to soothe themselves. Babies tend to fall asleep during breastfeeding or feeding through a bottle, which is why they associate this sucking sensation with relaxation or time to sleep. This is why you’ll find your little one sucking on hands during sleep.
This new world with new people and noise can get overwhelming for your baby, and sucking on their hand helps them handle these simulations. Sucking also makes your baby feel safe, which is why they love to suck round the clock.
Some older babies, infants around 8-9 months, can also be found sucking on their hands because it helps them relax and sleep peacefully at night. You will also notice your baby sucking on his hands when he is a little agitated or feeling under the weather. In the end, you can know that this is one of your baby’s relaxation technique, and just let them be!
If your newborn baby is sucking on his hands, then this could also mean that he is hungry. Your baby is doing this because of the familiar sensation of sucking that he gets through breastfeeding. As he cannot tell you in words, he starts to suck on fingers to satisfy his hunger, thinking that sucking on fingers will give him milk as well. You can take this cue as the time for another feeding.
Newborn babies tend to give their hunger cues through their mouths. They might open and close their mouth or smack their lips to give you a sign that they are hungry. By feeding them right after, you can also verify if they were giving you a cue for another feeding or not.
Some babies that are going through the developmental phase tend to chew or suck on their hands, even after feeding.
Teething is the most common reason among babies for chewing on hands and most babies start teething between 4-7 months. If your baby is drooling quite a bit, being cranky, and is waking up in the middle of the night, then he’s probably going through a teething phase. Know that it’s a tough time for them and let them chew on their hands to alleviate their pain.
Teething can be a painful process followed by irritation in gums and a lot of drooling. Thus, chewing on hands or fingers against those sore spots relieves the pain.
I understand that adults don’t find hand sucking entertaining but for our little angels, this is the most fascinating and playful act. The newly found freedom of being able to control their hands makes our babies obsessed with them for some reason.
The only exploration that our babies can undergo at this stage is through their hands, as their sense of hearing and vision is not fully developed yet. He depends on the sensation of taste to understand the world around him.
Also, your baby has just started figuring out how amazing and multitasking their hands can be. They cannot only touch things but can pick them up and put them in their mouths as well. The ability to sense temperatures and tasting new things is how their journey to exploring a new world begins, this makes it kind of normal to get this obsessed with their hands.
Newborns have quite a busier routine than we can imagine, involving feeding, pooping, crying, and sleeping, so they do not get bored at all. But as soon as they start staying up for longer periods, boredom starts hitting them.
This boredom can also trigger sucking or chewing on hands, as it keeps them busy and occupied. A tip here is to try changing up your baby’s scenery when you feel that he is chewing on his hands out of boredom.
What are the risks involved in hand-sucking?
Sucking on your hands does not pose any serious health threats to your baby, but there are some precautions that you should take:
- Make sure that your baby’s hands are clean, to avoid any bacterial infection.
- Make sure that your baby is not sick or in pain.
- Make sure that they feel comfortable and safe in the environment they are in.
If you are worried that this habit may affect your baby’s oral development, rest assured moms, it does not. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, sucking on hands poses no threat until your baby is 4 years old.
How long does hand sucking phase last?
Most babies get out of this addiction when they turn 6-7 months old, but some may continue sucking on their hands until they’re 2 years old. In both cases, it’s harmless unless he is above 4 years. Some children may regress to sucking under stressful periods, which is completely fine as well.
What measures to take to keep your baby from sucking on his hands?
Here are some tips to prevent your baby from hand sucking:
- As babies tend to suck on their hands or fingers when they are hungry, make sure to feed them as soon as possible.
- If your baby puts an entire hand in his mouth, then try taking it out by offering him a toy. Show your baby a toy to make him take his hand out to grab, but make sure that you hand a soft and clean toy to your baby because he is most probably going to put the toy inside his mouth.
- If your baby is going through a painful teething phase, then make sure to hand your baby cold teething ring. The coldness will help alleviate the pain of your teething baby upon chewing.
- Some babies like to suckle after every feeding, in that case, give them a pacifier to suck on. This will also prevent them from sucking on their hands.
- Make some time to play, sing, or talk to your child, to distract him from the hand sucking.
When to be concerned?
Your baby’s teeth alignment may get affected if your baby keeps sucking his thumb or hands even after teething. Your baby might grow dental problems if he is unable to get out of this phase. So, take the necessary measures to help your baby grow out of this phase.
Sucking on hands is not damaging for your baby, in fact, it helps them pass through various developmental phases of their lives. Your baby is learning to be self-reliant during times of stress, so, do not force your babies to grow out of this habit unless they are a year old.
Let me know how you got rid of your baby’s obsession in the comments below!