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Reasons for Babies Sucking Fingers

Reasons for Babies Sucking Fingers

2020-08-18


What if your baby is sucking on their whole hand, fist, thumb or their other fingers… is that normal? 


The answer: Yes! Everything a baby does is basically a way of communicating. So, if your baby is spending a lot of time sucking on their hand, they’re probably trying to tell you something. 



 Reasons for hand-sucking 

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.

 

Hunger 

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.

 

Self-soothing 

OK, but what if you just 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.


Teething 

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).

 

Exploration 

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.

 

Boredom 

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.






 Risks of hand-sucking 

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.



 How to deal with it 

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? In these cases, a pacifier might be a useful swap, too.



 Do babies grow out of it? 

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.



 When to worry 

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.






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