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.
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
- 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
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.
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If you’re worried 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, you should contact your doctor.
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 worry as a new parent, you shouldn’t feel anxious 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 doctor about postpartum depression. With help and treatment, you’ll soon be feeling like your old self again.
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!