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Newborn Hands: Why are they always in the way while breastfeeding?

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 0 views
by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC

Oh, those sweet little newborn hands.  Such a love/hate relationship we breastfeeding mothers have with those hands.  We love to hold and kiss those sweet-smelling hands, yet when it’s time to breastfeed, those annoying little clawing paws won’t get out of the way!  The minute our breast is out and ready to feed, those newborn hands are like defensive linemen, blocking any entry into our baby’s pecking mouth.

So, what’s the deal with those hands? 

Why is it that immediately when our baby realizes he is starving, his hands get in the way?

Fun fact #1: Did you know that your baby has been using his hands in this fashion while in utero?  Ultrasounds show babies bringing their hands to their faces before swallowing amniotic fluid.  This is actually a process in the feeding pattern, which explains why babies bring their hands to their mouths when they are hungry. 

Fun fact #2: Did you know that if your baby’s face is not touching your breast as you initiate a breastfeeding session, he will use his hands to find your nipple?  Newborns have incredibly poor eyesight and use all five senses to locate and latch on to the breast.  Those little hands are searching for your breast to help bring it closer to his mouth.

So, what’s a mom to do when her baby is crying to eat, yet his hands are blocking every chance she has to put her breast in the baby’s mouth?

  • Let your baby suck on his fingers to calm himself at the breast.  When he moves his hands, he is already at the ‘restaurant’ and will be ready to breastfeed.
  • Try not to tuck your baby’s hands under his body or swaddle him while breastfeeding.  Tucking his hands can disorient him.  Think about if you were trying to eat with your hands tied behind your back.  You would most likely feel off-centered and clumsy.  Babies need their hands to keep them stable, just like we need our arms to our side or in front of us when we eat.
  • If you have sore nipples and the thought of your baby clawing them makes you yelp just thinking about it, then keep your baby’s face touching your breast.  Try laid-back breastfeeding to assist with this.  In this position, you can wrap your baby’s hands AROUND your breast and he will come in with his face instead.
  • Catherine Watson Genna, one of the most amazing lactation consultants I have ever met (and also the head researcher in an infant hand-use while latching study) recommends this technique in the Lactation Matters article, An Interview with Catherine Watson Genna, “Sometimes babies do get caught in a ‘reflex loop’ of sucking their hand, moving away, and then sucking their hands again. Moving the baby slightly so his face touches mom’s breast can interrupt this loop and get the baby to move his hands away and look for the breast with his mouth again.”  More information can be found in her article,Facilitating Autonomous Infant Hand Use During Breastfeeding

So, maybe those roaming little hands are actually helping our babies to become better breastfeeders.  Who knew?

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