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My little girl about 3 months old and she already mouths quite frequently on her hands. Should we try to discourage this behavior now (by pulling her hand away when we find her doing it), or wait till she is older?

If we should wait, how will we know that she is ready?

  • are you using a dummy/pacifier? – Jacob Apr 7 '11 at 10:47
  • @Jacob no, she won't use one. – C. Ross Apr 7 '11 at 12:04
  • Not using a pacifier is not a problem in itself. Not all children want pacifiers. My son (now 18 months old) uses one, but he has long periods when he doesn't. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 7 '11 at 13:11
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    @torbengb pacifiers are as much for the parents as the child, maybe more :-). – C. Ross Apr 7 '11 at 13:13
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    Why is this a problem? It's perfectly natural for babies to suck their hands or toes. – JBRWilkinson Apr 9 '11 at 11:42
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This is typical infant behavior. Keep in mind infants typically don't know what their hands are doing, that they can control them, or that they are even part of their own body. (My 5 month old son still wakes himself in the night, by whacking himself in the face -- he thinks someone else is doing it! I have to tightly wrap him in a blanket, to jeep his hands away.) Be sure to keep her fingernails filed down, so she doesn't hurt herself. My first two kids hated pacifiers, but my 5 month old likes them. See if she will peter a pacifier to her hand.

Wen you're ready to stop the habit (probably in about a year), simply rub the cut end of an artichoke stem on the offending hand. Raw artichoke tastes AWFUL. The bad taste will stay on her hand (and in her mouth) for some time, doesn't stain, is a natural, and won't cause a rash or allergic reaction. Most kids try it only once or twice, before they get the clue that putting a hand in their mouth isn't a great experience.

If the behavior persists, wait until she is old enough to learn to stop. 18-24 months old should be old enough -- girls are pretty smart and learn fast at a younger age.

I assume this is your first child. Don't spoil her, even though you'll want to!

  • A chew toy is perhaps a little kinder than raw artichoke :-) – JBRWilkinson Apr 9 '11 at 11:43
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Do:
I'd let her do it at least until she can deliberately grab other objects to suck on instead. The only thing you should check is that the skin of the hands don't get irritated from being moist all the time, and keep the nails short (though infant nails usually don't need to be clipped because they're so soft in the first place). If moist hand skin becomes an issue, put some soft mittens on her hands and replace them regularly throughout the day.

Why:
Infants go through an oral phase, where they put everything into the mouth. The reason is that the most sensitive body part of an infant are the lips. This is no big surprise, as infants can't yet deliberately move their limbs very well or touch things with their fingers. Since she can't yet grab objects, the hands are the easiest "object" to use.

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I agree with the comment that the behavior is typical. I have a 4 month old who eats her hand.
I will say...it helps her immensely with her teething. I can see her rubbing her gums because her little teeth are starting to push through. If its not her hand its going to town on some toy (I dont think the pacifier provides enough resistance so she's weening herself off of those).

Totally off topic, but, I read that offering your own fingers to them can help at this stage. Its true...she goes nuts and tries to chomp our fingers off (very funny). Basically she just likes the way it feels on sore gums.

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From my own personal experience, I don't think you need to force the issue. Your child should eventually stop on her own, although when that happens will vary. I sucked my thumb as a child and didn't actually stop until I was about 9, but there was no outside influence or push. I just plain stopped one day. My cousin did the same, although I'm pretty positive he stopped a lot sooner than I did.

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Personally, I'd advice you to discourage this habit when it starts. It's normal for infants to put hands in their mouth, complete natural behaviour. But in long run, this can become a problem when you want them to grow out of this habit. With my daughter, I discouraged this by putting mittens on her hands and actively plucking her hands out if I find her doing it. In some time she got used to this and resorted to breastfeeding for comfort which I didn't discourage. It is easier to wean breastfeeding when time comes than making them break this habit.

I've seen my friend's kids cling to this habit for soothing themselves in adolescence. Moreover, this habit is so persistent in preschoolers that they prefer their fingers over food. I remember my friend used to put her thumb in her mouth most of the time in school, and would not stop even when discoraged by teachers. She used to get teased by peers for doing it, still it didn't affect her behaviour. This was when we were in fifth grade.

I've witnessed such cases first hand and seen its consequences, so I advice you to discourage this habit before it starts.

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