If you’ve ever watched kittens nursing, you will see them pressing on their mom’s belly with their paws. You’ll even see adult cats doing this sort of massage motion when they are content. That’s a deep instinct, hard wired in animals and humans brain. Watch your baby’s little hands, curling and uncurling… same instincts.
Watch your baby sticking his hands in his mouth, moving them to her face. Hand to mouth is part of the learning process.
Even when in the womb, newborns suck their thumbs. Learning to nurse begins with fingers. When a baby is first born and is left undisturbed on the mother’s chest, they’ll suck and smell their hands. The smell of amniotic fluid on the fingers is familiar. The small bumps around the mother’s areola emit a secretion that smells like amniotic fluid. That is a cue that guides a newborn to the nipple. Isn’t that cool?
Sucking is calming and it also releases digestive hormones in the baby’s gut.
This is one reason why it’s recommended that newborns not be given a bath right away. There’s no need to wash off that important ‘birth goo’ smell. Bathing also separates mom and baby, maybe tires or confuses a newborn and when they’re swaddled (they get chilly with a bath), they don’t have access to their little fingers. Babies who are not given a bath right away will suck on their hands more often and breastfeed more readily.
When your baby is at your breast and is pressing on your breast (just like kittens do), this also helps bring the milk down. Another thing which I think is cool.
If your baby is fussy at the breast and ‘getting fingers in his/her face all the time’, focus on calming your child. Hold your baby on your chest, skin to skin. Present your finger to let your baby take it in and suck on that. Let them use their hands as they need.
For the most part, babies already know what to do. We understand this and be patient. In that way, we can give them a hand.
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk”
The photo is of a beautiful felted doll that my friend Katherine Lew made for my teaching.