Every single baby you’ll ever come across is going to be different, so it makes sense they’d all have different soothing techniques, right? Some babies need to nurse, while others need a pacifier. Some babies suck their thumbs, and others may just need some snuggles. But what about those babies put their hands down your shirt? Is it a comfort thing?
For starters, it is a pretty common move among babies. You’ll see the questions popping up on parenting message boards all over the internet. In fact, there was a Babble article about Canadian supermodel Tille Medland who sparked some rude comments when she posted a video to her Instagram account of her just talking into the camera while her 2-year-old nephew randomly reaches his hand into her sports bra and grabs her right breast. Medland laughs it off, but a lot of people weren’t amused. Babble reported that one Instagram user said they “Felt weird,” and another said it was “disturbing she isn’t correcting him.”
Seriously, guys? For one thing, it’s nothing weird, or sexual, according to author and licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Caroline Madden. “The first thing to always keep in mind is that it is not sexual. To have anyone grab your breast is understandably unnerving,” she tells Romper in an email interview. But children do this instinctively because they learn through their sense of touch, and according to Madden, their first stage of development is oral. “We learn to eat and drink before any other skill. The breast represents comfort and soothing. Babies don’t really even understand that you are a separate person then they are. Touching your breast is like sucking their own thumb,” she says.
In fact, child development specialist Linda Barker, who was interviewed in the Babble article, said, “We know that one of the first sensory connections that a child has is through touch. This is vital for a strong attachment and provides an important way of communicating between a child and a mother.” So it’s all about communicating, whether it’s a need for food or connection and comfort. Plus, everyone knows how many big emotions babies and toddlers have and the weird ways they try to figure out how to express them.
And it doesn’t have to happen to just the mom. The author of the Babble article is a Dad, and he noted that his son puts his hands down his shirt, too because he associated the area as a source of comfort. When the author and his son were away from the mother visiting family, he had to explain to the aunts and uncles that “it was his son’s way of feeling safe in an unfamiliar environment.” The author added, “After all, in lieu of my wife’s absence, my upper body was the closest thing to the safe harbor of his former source of nourishment.
So how do you curb this behavior and when? Madden tells Romper, “I think that when you are done breastfeeding, it is time to take your boobs back! You can gently tell them that your breasts are your private area — just like you would if they accidentally grabbed your vagina. It doesn’t have to be shaming, you are simply setting a boundary that your body is your own. It is good modeling for them. They should learn that their body is their own, too.”
If your baby is constantly putting their hands down your shirt, or anyone else they're close to, don’t fret. It’s totally normal, albeit annoying at times. They associate the chest/breast with food and/or comfort — sometimes whether they were breastfed or not. Just calmly redirect your kiddo and know that this too shall pass.