5 Ways to Handle Your Baby Pulling, Tugging, and Pinching You

Pinches and pokes might be a sign your baby loves you, but they can be uncomfortable, so here's how to handle your curious baby's roving hands.

Asian Mother Holding Baby Pulling on Shirt Illustration
Photo: Emma Darvick

At 4 months old, Ashley Wall, of Redwood City, CA, developed an interesting little habit: She'd pull her mother's hair, and pinch her neck and chest, whenever she was held.

Initially, the tiny tugs were kind of sweet, says Ashley's mom, Heather, but once the pinches and pulls grew stronger, they didn't seem cute anymore: "Every time Ashley was in my arms, she'd just go at it. I looked like I had little hickeys all over my neck and chest – and it hurt," says Wall.

A baby who pinches isn't exactly what you may have had in mind when everyone talked about "soaking up the snuggles," so what gives? Why do some babies pinch, pull, and tug on you?

Roving Hands and Mouth

It's actually not uncommon for babies to poke, pinch, or bite the adults they love, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., a psychologist, and director of the Touch Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. (Perhaps it might be helpful to think of babies like puppies?) They're busy exploring the world around them – and that includes finding out what skin tastes like, how hair feels when you pull it, and how a person reacts when they're prodded. And since babies need repetition to learn a lesson, they're likely to do it over and over again. "They aren't being hostile," says Field, "they just don't realize that those things can actually hurt you."

Some infants also yank hair, tug ears, and otherwise occupy their hands when they're breast- or bottle-feeding. If those behaviors become a habit, babies may associate their actions with the pleasure of filling their tummies, and repeat them throughout the day as a way to comfort themselves.

Taming the Tugs

To rein in a baby's unwanted pinches and pokes, you can try a few different strategies:

Put on the brakes.

With kids younger than 1, simply and gently stop the offending behavior. If your baby pinches you, you can physically remove their hand. If your baby is biting you, place two fingers in their mouth, separate their jaws, and pull them away. At the same time, say firmly, "No. That hurts me."

Don't overreact.

An older baby might think it's funny if you jump or flinch, and will do it again to get another rise out of you.

Offer an alternative.

Show your baby that there is a gentler way to touch someone. For example, if your baby tugs your hair, take their hand and demonstrate how to softly stroke it instead.

Eliminate temptation.

When in doubt, removing the temptation for your baby to have things to tug and grab it may be helpful. For instance, Wall found it helpful to keep her hair back and wear a collared shirt – things that made it more difficult for Ashley to reach her target.

Set an example.

Your baby may not fully be able to grasp the difference, but setting an example could help. That means showing your baby what it might feel like to be gentle.Handle your baby gently, since squeezing their adorable cheeks may not be so comfy either, and may send the message that it's fine to do those things (even when it's not!).

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