Has your little one recently started hitting, swinging or smacking their arms while breast or bottle feeding? If you’re new to parenting, this behavior may leave you feeling as though you’re doing something wrong. While many people may tell you this behavior is perfectly normal, it may still have you wondering why your baby swings their arms while eating.
The behavior of moving arms and legs while feeding or nursing is commonly referred to as twiddling and is perfectly normal. Wandering hands, moving arms and kicking legs usually happen from 6 months onwards and are a part of the developmental phase. The main reason is that your little one is discovering their hands and arms.
- Babies moving their arms around is a normal part of infant development.
- Reasons for the swinging action can vary from the baby being excited to needing to be burped.
- Choking is the biggest safety hazard of swinging arms around while feeding.
- Give the little one a plush toy to keep their hands distracted during feeding.
Why does the baby swing their arms while feeding?
Baby is excited
One of the more common reasons your baby starts swinging their arms is purely out of excitement. Usually, when the baby starts slapping at their parent, the parent may react by flinching, laughing, pulling a face, or even scolding.
This reaction excites the baby and they may perform the hitting or swinging action more often to ignite this reaction from their parents. Rather than view this as annoying, it’s actually a sign that your baby is improving their social and cognitive development!
The baby may be uncomfortable
Another reason for your baby to be swinging arms may be because they’re lying or sitting in an uncomfortable position. I’ve had this experience before when my daughter was younger. All I had to do was ensure that my baby was more comfortable when feeding. Your baby may be trying to get your attention. Start by adjusting their feeding position to see if it makes them more comfortable.
Baby has just discovered arm movement
As babies grow and develop, they start learning that they can move parts of their bodies. The parts they can move most easily at first are their arms and hands. In addition to realizing that their arms and hands can move and grasp things, they also start understanding that their arms can reach and touch you. The excitement of this may leave your little one wanting to do it all the time!
The flow of milk is too fast or slow
Your baby may also be trying to indicate that their milk is flowing too fast or too slow. A too-fast flow will be uncomfortable while a slow flow will leave the baby feeling as though they aren’t getting their food fast enough.
Your baby needs to be burped
When babies feed or nurse, air bubbles become trapped in their tummies. Too much air causes them to become uncomfortable and they need to be burped. Babies should be burped after every two to three ounces of liquid. Depending on the air in your baby’s tummy, they may need to be burped before feeding is finished. Simply take a burping break when needed.
Silent reflux problem
Many infants suffer from reflux and other colic symptoms. While they may not be showing the usual crying that accompanies reflux or colic, they could be suffering from silent reflux. It’s also important to note that babies can develop reflux symptoms at any age.
Distracted by their surroundings
Your little one may also be distracted by their surroundings. For instance, if the TV is on, other children are playing in the room or the baby sees the other parent in the background, they may get excited. They may even want to be a part of the distraction and swing their arms to indicate that they want to go to the reason for the distraction.
Is it normal for babies to move or fidget while feeding?
Yes! New parents can easily become accustomed to a quiet baby who feeds or nurses without too much fuss. And certainly, no swinging arms, grabbing and hitting hands and kicking legs! Babies aged between 6 and 9 months start realizing that some of their body parts can move, and more impressively, that they can control the movement.
When you react to your little one’s swinging, they get super excited and want to perform the action again to see the reaction. Typically, swinging arms is nothing to be concerned about as it’s a normal part of infant development and is actually a step in the right direction. As long as your baby is not at risk of hurting themselves, it’s all good!
Safety concerns if a baby moves arms while feeding
Some parents are concerned by the arm swinging behavior because the older the baby gets, the wilder the swinging becomes. Look out for the following safety concerns.
Swinging arms can lead to the bottle moving around in their mouth and causing an injury. Since many bottles are made of hard plastic or glass, these parts can easily hurt soft baby gums.
Babies swinging or flailing their arms about while they have a mouthful of milk can lead to potential choking. Be sure to keep your little one still while they’re drinking to avoid this.
Knocking the bottle to the ground
Wild actions of swinging and slapping can result in the bottle being knocked to the ground. This can cause injury to you or the little one. It also exposes the bottle and its contents to bacteria.
How to prevent your baby from moving arms while feeding
The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to reduce arm swinging if the baby is hurting you or putting themselves at risk. Try a few of the suggestions below.
Give your baby something to hold
One of the easiest ways to keep your little one from swinging their arms, or smacking you is to put something else in their hands to attract their attention. Favorite plush toys are an excellent distraction. They’re soft enough to be swung around without hurting anyone.
Consider swaddling your baby
Swaddling involves wrapping your baby in a blanket, the same way you did when they were a newborn. Wrapping them may encourage them to keep their arms still during feeding.
Ensure your baby has burned off energy before feeding
If your baby seems overly excited during feeding time, I recommend that you allow your little one to play and burn off the excess energy before feeding. Doing this will help your baby become more relaxed during the feeding session.
Find a comfortable position to sit in when feeding
Try changing your regular feeding and nursing position. As the baby gets bigger, it may be feeling uncomfortable in its previous position.
Find out if there is a medical problem
Another reason for swinging arms and smacking hands might stem from an underlying medical condition. One of the top medical conditions that cause babies to swing and kick more than usual may be one of the conditions on the autism spectrum. Speak to your pediatrician for the necessary tests if the arm swinging is accompanied by other unusual symptoms.
Here’s a short clip to teach you a few simple steps to feeding your baby. This is helpful if you’re a new parent who wants to make the feeding process easier on you and your baby.
In most instances, babies swinging arms and slapping their hands against you is simply part of normal infant development. While your little one may be excited to discover that their arms and hands work and move, you need to ensure that they aren’t hurting themselves in the process. Try to keep them still during feeding to avoid choking or hurting the inside of their mouths against the bottle. Be sure to stuff a small plush toy in their hands to keep them distracted.
For a few helpful and informative articles about feeding your baby, don’t hesitate to read my articles about babies who prefer bottles to breasts and if you should feed your baby a bottle before or after breakfast.