Dr Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA - International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

Baby's hands and how they use them - helping the milk to flow

Almost twenty years ago a mother, whose baby had just head-butted her breast, asked my why he was doing that. I had been around farm animals and so I knew that calves and goat kids head-butted their mothers to make the milk "let down"; that is, to stimulate the milk ejection reflex (MER).  Cows and nanny goats have leathery udders and so only a vigorous action would be felt. This isn't the usual way that human babies do it - and so I started observing babies at the breast, to see what they did.
Very soon, I realised that babies have their own way.  They use their hands. What they usually do is to place a little hand on the breast and gently push. Mothers feel the pressure and look down at the cute little hand - and there is a surge of oxytocin, the hormone that works the MER. The milk is released and the baby starts drinking again.
This seems to work even when mothers know what is happening.  In fact, when the MER needs a little help I sometimes ask a mother's permission to place her baby's little hand on her breast. I get her to focus on his hand, talking about how it looks, the dimples on the knuckles, and so on. Its seems magical when he starts drinking again.
This natural process is messed up if a baby's hands are restricted, in the belief that they need to be controlled. So frustrating for babies!
For years I have shared this information with one mother at a time, about how babies use their hands. When I mentioned it to a group of other health professionals a few years ago, it was a "lightbulb" moment for them!  They had seen babies do this, but had never made the connection about WHY. Whether you are a mother, a family member, or a health professional, you may find this information useful.
This is the second of three topics about the importance of babies' hands in breastfeeding.

4 Comments to Baby's hands and how they use them - helping the milk to flow:

Comments RSS
David on Sunday, 9 February 2014 11:19 PM
Lovely. Have put it up on my Facebook page, right after my comments on war profits! :)
Reply to comment

Michelle on Monday, 17 February 2014 8:05 PM
I have an older baby who from around 7 months started using his hands to explore my face and neck. Sometimes this was painful as he liked to pinch the skin on my neck, put his little fingers up my nose (resulting in 2 very painful nose bleeds!) and put his fingers in my mouth to feel my gums, lips and teeth. When his arms grew longer and he started reaching for my eyes I gave him something to hold so he could play with that. A soft block worked wonders for a while as he could move it around without hurting me and enjoy the noise it made. Now at 10 months I just give him any little thing close at hand to keep his busy little fingers away from my face.
Reply to comment

Virginia on Thursday, 20 February 2014 9:18 AM
Michelle, thank you for sharing what works for you as regards your baby's wandering hands at this age. I'm sure other mothers will learn some strategies from your comments.
Reply to comment

New Baby Hampers on Thursday, 27 March 2014 6:41 PM
I was looking forward such kind of post Baby's hands and how they use them - helping the milk to flow.I have been much benefited to get this informative site. Thanks a million friend. Carry on
Reply to comment

Add a Comment

Your Name:
Email Address: (Required)
Make your text bigger, bold, italic and more with HTML tags. We'll show you how.
Post Comment
Website Builder provided by  Vistaprint