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

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?


Have you experienced roaming, boob-blocking newborn hands? 
Did these techniques help you?


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Reader Comments (13)

Great article, Robin! I've found my 6 month old still uses his hands a lot when nursing. He closes his eyes and gets into a rhythm of hand movements much like a puppy or a kitten does when nursing--it's almost like his nursing meditation:).

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennie Bever

Somehow I was able to have me daughter hold onto my fingers which helped. I had her hold my pinky and thumb of my hand that was resting behind her head. So her hands were still up by her face but not clawing about :)

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Another annoying hand habit my son has is pushing my breast away. He has Down syndrome, so his mouth is quite small. I once got fed up and tried to keep him from popping off in this way. He choked, proving to me that he really does know what he is doing better than I do. :-P

I suspect he keeps some pressure on my breast while nursing to keep my nipple from going too far into his little mouth (still, at 5 months old) and also so he can push to pop off quickly when he feels overwhelmed with the flow.

Go figure... our babies know what they're doing!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMomma Jorje

Oh my... I had hubby help me... those first months, it was a real team effort!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersunni

Plus infants massage the breast with their hands to facilitate let-down.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGL

Wow, yes! Her fists would go in her mouth--both of them! It was a nightmare! My husband didn't have the right touch to help out, he'd pull her hands away and she'd go with them, but my older daughter, 9 at the time, had the magic touch, and could hold her hands perfectly out of the way until I learned what to do.

I think about it in retrospect, it stopped being a problem when I tucked one hand under the breast she was nursing from, and the other hand between my that her arms were circling my breast! and she'd do a thing with her top arm after she latched on, she'd swing it in a big circle, rubbing my breast and her own face, so cute!

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNerd-Faced Girl

love this article. My 2nd daughter would hold both hands up to her head and pull her hair while she fed. She is now 22months and still has to hold onto a handfull of her hair while at my breast. Such precious little memories.

May 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMama Ash

I love this! Yes! I constantly batted away eager little fists like I was in a boxing ring! Now my 1-year-old nurser has a bad habit of tapping or pinching other nipple she's not nursing from. I'm way too sensitive for that!

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

Nice post. Your advice helps to new mother's, to know how to breastfeed newborn babies. Thank you so much for your useful post.

March 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterranjana

Started reading this and immediately started laughing! This is so true! Sometimes I use my breast as a "wrecking ball" batting hands away to get to the face♡ loved this article♡and I love breastfeeding

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertiffany

I've been struggling with little hands, especially at night. This article explains a lot, thanks :-) with my three girls they always fed best when 'hugging' my breast.

August 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Collinson

I can't tell you how helpful it was to read this I've been swaddling my 4 week old to nurse I didn't realise how important and inate having his hands there are. Thank you!

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlora

Thanks for this post! I Google absolutely everything lol and too see my lo wasnt the only one put my mind at ease! She also grabs my top sometimes and tries to shove that in her mouth whilst nursing also. Haha love her

May 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrhi

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