5 Reasons Why Babies Chew on Their Hands

From teething to the fact that it's just pure fun, here are a few explanations for your baby's sudden interest in their digits.

Baby with Fingers in Mouth
Photo: Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

If you have noticed that your baby seems to be noshing on their fingers (and sometimes, toes!), you've probably wondered why exactly babies seem to love to chew on their hands. For starters, babies love to chew on a lot of things, so there may not be a clear reason other than the fact that they can. Chewing on their hands also helps the learn about the world around them; babies learn a lot by putting things in their mouths. Beyond exploration, here are five reasons babies chew on their hands.

Your Baby Has "Found" Their Hands

If your baby is chewing on their hands and fingers, they've probably "found" their hands, an early fine-motor and visual-motor skill. Once a baby has discovered their hands, they often become the new favorite playthings, and putting them in their mouth is a form of self-exploration.

When your young baby explores their hands, they are discovering that their hands belong to them and are under their control. It's a great sign of development. Just one word of warning: Once your baby's mastered the hand-sucking thing, that means they'll soon be skilled enough to hold other things and put those in their mouth, too. You'll need to start being more vigilant about babyproofing and monitoring your little one.

Your Baby Is Teething

If your baby is between the ages of 4 and 7 months, chewing on their hands could be a sign that they are teething. Most babies start teething between 4 and 7 months, but some babies begin teething as young as 3 months old. Teething can be a stop-and-start process, so it may be difficult to fully know if your baby is teething, especially if they are younger than 4 months old.

To help you figure out if an erupting tooth is behind your baby's vigorous hand-chewing, you can look for other symptoms of teething that can include excessive drooling, tugging at their ears, and swollen gums.

Your Baby Is Hungry

Gnawing on their little fists can be an early sign of hunger, especially in newborns and young infants. Crying is actually a late sign of hunger, so it can help to know when it's time to feed your baby again by looking for hunger cues such as chewing on their hands, opening their mouth, or turning their head as if they are looking for a breast or bottle (aka rooting).

Some babies may also enjoy sucking a little more than others, so if you are certain your baby is not hungry and they are still gnawing, you might consider offering a pacifier as long as feeding has been well-established. (Pacifiers aren't usually recommended until you and your baby have a good nursing or bottle system down.)

They Are Looking for Comfort

Sucking on their hands can actually be a soothing gesture for some babies. If nursing or a bottle isn't readily available to them and they need comfort for any myriad of reasons from feeling lonely, scared, bored, tired, or overwhelmed, your baby may look for the next best thing: their hands. Try to comfort your baby if you notice a lot of sudden hand-sucking. If your baby has a constant need for sucking or putting things in their mouth (some babies do!), a pacifier might help.

Just for Fun

And last but not least, sometimes a baby chewing on their hands doesn't have a deeper meaning—it's just because your baby has found their hands and it's fun or sensory-inducing for them to chew on them. If you do notice your baby seems to be bored and munching away, you could think about introducing a few age-appropriate activities or toys for them, such as activity gyms, reading books together, or soft toys they can chew on instead of their hands.

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