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Dr Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant


Babies' hands and how they use them - "I've finished my feed".

Posted on April 13, 2019 at 8:12 PM
With a first baby, it can seem so hard to tell if your baby has finished feeding or not. I have been asked about this a lot. Certainly the amount of time isn't a reliable indicator, as some feeds will take a shorter or longer time than others - it is normal for the length of a feed to vary through a 24-hour period. Usually, your baby's hands will give you cues about whether she needs to continue the feed or is finished. While there can be exceptions, I have actually found these very rare.

At the beginning of a feed your baby's hands will be bunched up, often tightly into little fists. Anyway, they'll be closed, not open and floppy. As the feed progresses, the hands become more relaxed, often a gradual process. If your baby stops feeding, but stays at the breast, you wonder, 'Is she just taking a break, or is she done?' A few babies may release the breast and go to sleep, but other babies just stay on!

When in doubt, it can help to look at your baby's little hand to see if the fingers have opened up, or to lift her hand gently to see if it is floppy. To give an example, a mother I know found this a useful guide with her first baby. He usually came off the breast and grizzled after a feed, and checking if his hand was floppy helped her to tell if he'd finished the feed and was 'just being him', or it he needed to resume the feed. I often find this cue that a baby's hands give is reassuring to mothers.

Categories: Baby's hands and how they use them - :I've finished my feed".

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Reply Julie-Anne
2:21 AM on April 14, 2019 
Yes, I think our babies do try to tell us many things and it is good to look for their little 'messages'.
Reply David E. Bratt
1:23 AM on April 15, 2019 
This is a lovely, lovely clinical sign, look at the toes too, they uncurl with satiety.
Reply Virginia Thorley
10:07 AM on April 15, 2019 
David, that is a useful tip you shared, about looking at the toes uncurling, too. Thank you for sharing that. I think parents love to see how good their babies can be at giving cues - they just need to know what to look for.
Reply Virginia Thorley
10:13 AM on April 15, 2019 
That is a lovely tip you shared about looking at the toes uncurling, too. I expect that parents visiting this blog will want to use it, along with looking at the baby's hands. Most parents I see love learning about their babies' cues, and how good their baby is at signaling something.
Reply K P Kushwaha
2:50 AM on April 17, 2019 
Yes, what you write is one sign of baby finishing breastfeed. Many babies just leave the breast and go sleepy even if the hands are close. Feet and leg become relaxed often. Babies who wants to suck longer often continously, crying when removed from the breast, not gaining enough weight, not sleeping well ; are babies who are not attached well.
Reply Pushpa Panadam
3:14 PM on April 19, 2019 
Thank you dear Virginia. Very helpful tip������
Reply Jean Ridler
11:02 AM on April 24, 2019 
I didn't know about the toes! Thanks, David.
Reply Virginia Thorley
6:45 AM on April 27, 2019 
It is good to see such useful comments in this thread. Yes, that is an important reminder (thank you) about babies who are not latched well and so cannot show a satiated behaviour ('I'll full up', 'I've finished'). Then of course we have to observe and examine the child and mother to find out why - meanwhile helping the mother build up her supply, which her baby isn't stimulating enough. I forget who first created this handy guide:
'1. Feed the baby. 2. Protect the milk supply. 3. Find and fix the problem.'
Reply Ron
7:10 AM on May 3, 2019