Babies need their hands!

Mother breastfeeding her five days old baby
Babies need their hands !

It is very tempting to put mittens on your newborn’s hands when you see a scratch on their face or their nose or their scalp. As painful as it is to see the scratch mark, it is easier if you just file a newborn’s nails. The reason I say this is because babies need their hands to feel their world around them.

They need them to seek and find the mother’s breast. They need them to smell their food, they need it to calm them when they are trying to self-soothe. They also need their hand friends to tell you that they are hungry or tired. I urge new parents to get rid of those mittens.

As a student in lactation and a postpartum doula I feel like it is my duty to educate new parents about the vital role of a baby having access to his or her hands. Don’t we all need our hands for everything anyways even as adults ?

  • Patty

    Yes I tell parents this in Newborn Care class in the hosital

  • Brigette

    So swaddling at night is a bad thing?

    • Allison

      The nurse in the nicu my daughter was in told me to swaddle her with her arms bent up towards her face and sticking out of the swaddle, that way she can touch her face, which she said can actually stimulate breathing if baby forgets to breathe. Or just swaddle her body and leave the arms out completely

      • Nora

        Thanks for the tip! My husband and I are about to become first-time parents and we have been debating whether or not to swaddle, this seems like a really good compromise :)

    • Womanintheshoe

      Lol, the nurses in the NICU told me the opposite – swaddle those babies up tight! Who knows, really…depends on the baby, I guess.

  • Heather

    I could tell by the ultrasounds that my little girl wanted her hands free. They were always by her face. I learned to swaddle her in away that allowed her to use her hands. She still loves them by her face. And waves them all the time.

  • Womanintheshoe

    OK…well…hmmm… My first 3 babies I swaddled loosely so they could get their hands out. They were rather fussy babies, all sucked their thumbs, didn’t nap well (thanks to the “startle” reflex), etc. I learned how to “mummy wrap” with #4 and kept him swaddled save for diaper changes and nursing through about 6 weeks of age; even during his brief wake times he would hang out, swaddled like a little burrito. He was so content, napped like a champ (1.5-2 hour stretches), never sucked his thumb. Next baby, same thing. Next baby, same thing. Out of 12 babies the only ones who sucked their thumbs, were fussy and weren’t good nappers were the ones with whom I let their hands get out. With #12 the nurse told me to leave one of his arms out; I just looked at her, tucked his little arm down, and wrapped him up. I’m all for babies discovering the world around them and don’t use the mittens (mostly because I think they are a choking hazard), but I sure do enjoy not having thumb suckers and having babies who don’t startle themselves awake because their little arms are flailing. I agree that we all need our hands for everything (even as adults), but I am not sure about lumping a newborn in with an adult (or even an older baby). This seems like one of those things that swings on a pendulum – swaddle, don’t swaddle, partially swaddle…which way will the pendulum swing next? :)

    • janem1276

      So true, my guy would startle himself awake when his hands/arms flailed

  • Susan

    Both of my babies liked being swaddled from the armpits down, but hated their hands being wrapped. My first was born in hospital and even when the midwives swaddled him straight jacket style, he would still have his hands out of there within 2 minutes. My second was born at home and was born with a scar on her cheek which must have been from her scratching herself in the womb, but she also loved having her hands free to touch her face.

  • Christie Henderson

    My son was one who was perfectly content without swaddling, and I never bothered with mittens, either. My daughter, however, definitely needed the swaddle, and wanted it so tight her knees were to her chest, hands had to be in. Definitely follow baby’s cues, which means let their hands free if they seem to want it:)

  • Brandi Mckitrick

    I’m interested in this field of study. What education (prior & present) is needed to be a student in lactation and a postpartum doula?

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