Why Is My Baby Sucking on Their Hand?

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.

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 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.

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.

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