How Your Baby's Hands Help With Breastfeeding (So Please Unwrap Your Baby)
Are your baby’s hands getting in the way as you try to breastfeed?
Have you been told to wrap your baby for feeds?
Although advice to wrap babies like a tiny burrito for feeds was common practice years ago, this advice is now very outdated and for good reason.
Covering your baby’s hands not only make feeding more difficult, especially for newborns who are learning to latch at the breast, but covering your baby's hands can deprive him of important sensory input as he touches your skin and uses his natural reflexes to feel his way to your nipple and feed effectively.
Ultrasounds show that your baby has been putting his hands in his mouth while he was still in utero. As your baby was swallowing amniotic fluid, he was learning to put his hands in his mouth when he wanted to swallow. One of the earliest signals that your baby is hungry, is moving his hand towards his mouth. Sucking on his hands can help your baby to calm before he finds your nipple and latches: a crying or frantic baby can’t latch and feed effectively and wrapping your baby’s hands can make him even more frantic as his hands are restrained.
Unwrap your baby's hands
Your baby's hand movements during breastfeeding can serve multiple purposes, from stimulating milk flow and ensuring a good latch to fostering emotional bonding and providing comfort.
Hunger cues: The position and movement of your baby's hands can signal their hunger or satiation. When a baby is hungry, they will clench their fists or bring their hands to their mouth. Conversely, as your baby’s tummy becomes full, you will notice their hands becoming open and relaxed.
Latch: Your newborn's ‘kneading’ action on the breast can help to make your nipple firmer and more erect, making it easier for your baby to latch on effectively. A proper latch is essential for efficient milk transfer and a comfortable feeding experience for you and your baby.
Milk Flow: As well as providing comfort and reassurance to your newborn, skin-to-skin contact with an unwrapped baby against your bare skin helps release oxytocin - the ‘love hormone’ - in you and your baby, enhancing bonding between you and your little one and stimulating your milk flow.
Your baby might pat or knead your breast as they feed and older babies often fiddle with your opposite nipple. This can stimulate your milk ejection reflex (let-down reflex). This reflex is triggered by the release of the hormone oxytocin, which causes the milk to flow more readily from the milk ducts into the baby's mouth. This helps ensure that your little one receives a good supply of milk during feeding.
If baby's hands are in the way
If you are finding it difficult to breastfeed because your baby’s wee hands are in the way, wait a moment and let him try and latch himself. Your baby may be using his hands to shape the nipple or guide himself into a good position to latch. He will most likely move his hands away and manage latching with very little help if you are patient and holding him nice and close.
Try a laid-back breastfeeding position, reclining with your baby skin-to-skin and belly to belly against you with baby’s arms in a ‘hug’ on either side of your breast. This will help to stimulate your baby’s natural reflexes and trigger her to open her mouth wide, while gravity will assist her to stay well-latched and breastfeed effectively.
Whether you choose to wrap your baby to sleep or not, please unwrap your baby for feeds and watch your little one’s wee hands, they share so much information.
If you are having difficulty with breastfeeding, seek help from a lactation consultant who will give you personalised support and information.