Baby Sucking Hand: Reasons, Risks And How To Deal With It

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Babies suck their hands to communicate and self-soothe. A baby sucking hand is considered a normal part of their development and may begin at two months. Besides sucking hands, you may notice babies sucking fists or even trying to put their feet in their mouths.

Most babies stop sucking their hands by themselves at around two to four years. However, if a child sucks their hands even in their kindergarten years, consult a pediatrician because hand sucking could interfere with secondary or permanent teething.

Keep reading to know why babies suck their hands, its risks, and effective ways to help babies outgrow it.

In This Article

Reasons For Hand Sucking In Babies

Various reasons may make a baby suck their hands. You may have to observe your baby in detail to identify the cause of hand sucking.

Common reasons may include (1):

1. Hunger

Babies may suck hands when they are hungry. Hand sucking may indicate feeding time. Since babies suck a nipple to get milk or formula, it is normal for them to think that sucking may give them food.

Babies may suck hands even when they are full as it is a normal reflex until three months of age. Therefore, you can also look for other hunger cues, such as lip-smacking, opening and closing of mouth, and fussiness.

protip_icon Did you know?
Head turning to look for breasts, increased activity, and alertness can indicate your baby is hungry (2)

2. Teething

Baby's sucking hand could be due to teething

Image: Shutterstock

Teething may cause irritation and pain in babies. Rubbing something against the gums may soothe them, and, thus, babies may suck hands to relieve sore gums. Teething may begin between the ages of six and ten months (3).

Babies can become fussy, cry, and often drool when teething. You may also notice that they try to suck or chew other objects during this phase.

Sharon Wiener, MD, a primary, board-certified pediatrician from Texas says, “Babies may suck their hands but not a bottle because they may be teething and it is painful. Perhaps evaluate any mouth discomfort, give Tylenol for pain. For persistent denial of the bottle and hand sucking, your pediatrician should be contacted to evaluate a more complex problem as soon as possible, especially if fever is involved.”

3. Self regulation or self soothing

Babies may suck hands to self-soothe from as early as the age of two months (4). Babies may suck their hands when they feel stressed, such as when around strangers or when separated from parents for some time. Hand sucking is a way of oral exploration and comfort-seeking. They may feel calm and relaxed while sucking their hands.

Holly, a mother of one, shares the reason why her son started sucking his thumb. She says, “He (her son) began sucking his thumb as a baby, which, at the time, seemed really convenient since we no longer needed to worry about misplaced and dropped nuks. If he wanted comfort, he simply popped his thumb in his mouth as required (i).”

Dr. Wiener adds, “You may let your baby have suck their hands as long as you have made sure they are fed, safe, and warm. They may be self-soothing, teething, or just exploring!”

4. Boredom

As babies grow, they like to stay engaged with toys or caretakers for extended periods. When they have nothing to keep them occupied, they may resort to sucking hands out of boredom. Sometimes, if you keep them in their play yard or with a toy, they may begin sucking their hands to cue that they are bored and need something new.

5. Entertainment

Sucking hand is entertaining for many babies

Image: Shutterstock

Babies may become fascinated with their hands when they are two or three months old. They may think that it is a fantastic tool, which can be controlled by self. So, they may begin to explore the hand. The sense of sucking at the hands can be entertaining for many babies, and they tend to do it often without any apparent reasons.

Look for reasons why your baby is sucking their hands. It is challenging to control hand or thumb sucking at later ages if it becomes habitual. You can offer them pacifiers to control this normal infant behavior. However, do not make them dependent on pacifiers since overuse might cause dental problems and ear infections. Teethers can be more convenient since you can handle them.

Risks Of Hand Sucking In Babies

Baby's hand might carry germs

Image: Shutterstock

Hand sucking usually does not cause any serious problems for babies. However, it is essential to ensure that their hands are clean. Babies who crawl or walk are likely to touch multiple surfaces causing germs to settle on their hands. Therefore, keep the baby’s hands clean and also the surfaces or toys that they touch often.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), hand or thumb sucking does not cause oral development problems during the first few years of life. Hand sucking beyond the age of four may damage permanent teeth. Also, if you notice your baby’s hand sucking movement even after three to four years, there could be a possibility of an underlying cause. You may seek a pediatrician’s advice to stop the thumb or hand sucking habit of a preschooler (5).

protip_icon Quick tip
If your baby cannot reach the sink, use disposable wipes or the three-towel method (wipe hands using a damp soapy paper towel, then a wet towel to rinse the soap off, and finally, with a dry towel) to maintain your baby’s hand hygiene (6).

Can Hand Sucking In Babies Affect Speech Development?

Babies who suck the­ir hands for a long time can have proble­ms with talking and oral health, especially whe­n their permanent teeth come­ out. Persistent hand sucking might push their tongue­ forward when they talk, causing lisps. They might also move their tongue less, affecting talking and eating. There is also a risk of an ope­n bite, which can cause articulation issues.

However, there are therapies available to address these issues. Treatment helps adjust how the tongue and lips function, balance facial re­laxation postures, and fine­-tune the production of spee­ch sounds by ensuring proper tongue positioning. Hence, addressing these concerns e­arly is essential (7).

How To Deal With Hand Sucking In Babies?

There is usually no action needed for hand sucking in babies unless it is a hunger cue. If it is due to teething and your baby has gum swelling or fever, seek a pediatrician’s advice. You can also see a pediatrician if the child continues to suck their hands or thumb beyond the age of four years.

Parents can observe some steps to make hand sucking safer and provide some alternatives to babies (8) (9). However, note that these tips might not work for all babies. Therefore, try them and see what suits best for your baby.

  • Baby proof the house if your baby begins to crawl or walk. You may have to keep all dangerous objects out of the baby’s reach since hand sucking babies often try to mouth other things, too.
  • You may introduce new toys, such as crunchy stuffies and sensory toys, to encourage the baby’s sensory development and distract them from sucking their hands. Providing safe alternatives for oral exploration can help with self-regulation.
  • If your baby is teething, you may give them teething toys, a cold washcloth, or a frozen feeder to suck. It may reduce pain and irritation. You may offer them a pacifier when they begin to suck hands. Choose the safer one-piece pacifier that does not disintegrate into multiple parts. Do not let the child use the pacifier beyond the age of four years.
Choose a pacifier that does not disintegrate into multiple parts

Image: Shutterstock

If a newborn baby is sucking hands even after feeding, check if the baby is getting adequate breast milk or formula. A pediatrician or lactation consultant can help in such situations.

protip_icon Quick fact
Prolonged use of pacifiers may negatively affect breastfeeding, teeth alignment, and otitis media (10).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I let my baby put their hands in their mouth?

Babies may suck on their hands as an act of self-soothing, which is a common infant habit. There is nothing wrong with it, as they may soon grow out of the habit. But the risks arise when a baby places a dirty hand in their mouth. Hence, ensure that the baby’s hands and the environment are clean. Nevertheless, inform your pediatrician if you notice your baby showing other signs of discomfort when putting their hands in their mouth.

2. When should newborns stop sucking their hands?

Babies go through a phase of sucking on their fingers and thumbs. They usually get over the habit between two to four years (11). However, if your baby is teething, it is recommended to prevent them from sucking their hands with the help of a pediatrician.

3. Is it okay if a newborn sucks their thumbs?

Yes, it is okay for newborns to suck their thumbs. It is a common act among infants which usually disappears as the baby grows older (12).

4. Why is my baby aggressively eating their hands and crying?

According to Dr. Wiener, “Babies may be aggressively eating their hands and crying because they may have significant pain in their mouth for a variety of reasons or they may be stressed. Also, your baby may not be getting enough calories, even though they appear to be eating enough. In such cases, their nutritional status may need to be explored.”

Babies sucking their hands or fingers is a normal part of their development, and they will eventually outgrow the habit. Your baby may suck their hands due to various reasons, such as teething, hunger, boredom, self-soothing, or entertainment. However, ensure you keep dangerous objects out of their reach, and their hands are clean. Also, providing them with new toys, washcloths, pacifiers, or frozen feeders will help divert them from hand sucking. Having said that, since babies are curious and may put anything in their mouths, you need to keep an eye on them while they are playing. If you notice your baby sucking hands or their thumb beyond four years of age, consult your pediatrician.

Sucking on hands and fingers is part of a baby’s normal development, and they outgrow the habit. If you suspect hand sucking is due to teething or hunger, check for any hunger- or teething-related cues. Place dangerous objects out of baby’s reach and keep their hands clean. If your baby continues with hand sucking even beyond the age of four years, do not hesitate to consult a pediatrician.

Infographic: Understanding The Hand-To-Mouth Behavior In Babies

Hand-sucking is part of babies’ commonly seen hand-to-mouth movements. However, it also plays a vital role in their development. This infographic will help you understand why this behavior in babies should not be discouraged since it plays a role in achieving certain developmental milestones.

why hand sucking in babies should not be entirely discouraged (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Babies may suck their hands for various reasons such as hunger, boredom, or self-soothing.
  • Hand sucking is not associated with any health risk if the hands are clean.
  • You may offer a pacifier to babies younger than four years to prevent hand sucking.

Gain invaluable insights on stopping thumbsucking through this informative video. Acquire expert advice on overcoming this habit and facilitating your child’s progress toward healthier practices.

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. Thumb-Sucking; HealthLink; British Columbia
2. Baby’s Hunger Cues; US Department of Agriculture
3. Eruption Charts; American Dental Association
4. Important Milestones: Your Baby By Two Months; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Thumbsucking and Pacifier Use; American Dental Association
6. Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands; Stanford Medicine
7. Finger Sucking in Children; Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
8. Pacifiers: Satisfying Your Baby’s Needs; American Academy of Pediatrics
9. Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking; American Academy of Pediatrics
10. Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers; American Family Physician
11. Counseling on Early Childhood Concerns: Sleep Issues, Thumb Sucking, Picky Eating, and School Readiness; American Family Physician
12. Thumb Sucking; Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

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