A newborn’s hands are a tool that the baby uses to find and latch on to the nipple, rather than something to be restrained and held out of the way. In utero, babies often bring their hands to their face in preparation to swallow amniotic fluid, which helps them practice swallowing for after birth. Young babies use their hands to push and pull the breast to shape the breast and provide easier access to the nipple. Their hands on your breast releases oxytocin and also helps the nipple erect and evert. Newborns and young infants also use their hands to push the breast away, possibly to get a better visual sense of the location of the nipple as it is a darker color than the breast. They may feel the nipple with their hand, and use the hand as a guide to bring their mouth to the nipple.
Kneading, squeezing, patting, twiddling, pinching, biting, touching your face and pulling hair and so many more behaviors. Older babies, especially around 5-6 months, do this for two reasons: to help stimulate a let down/increase the flow of milk AND because they’re exploring the world around them. Much like the early days, touching the breast and even twiddling the other nipple help release oxytocin to send more milk or increase the flow of milk. You may notice baby does this more often when you’re on your period or in the late afternoon and evening when supply naturally dips. Many breastfeeding behaviors are a phase, older babies or toddlers like to experiment with what they can do while breastfeeding. If a specific behavior is only mildly annoying, then one option is to wait and see if the novelty wears off on its own. If you don’t like the behavior, give baby a toy or something else to hold while at the breast or cover the other breast with a blanket or your shirt. Wear a necklace or scarf they can play with. Sing a song or read them a book to distract them. Don’t be too quick to hide baby’s hands. They do serve a purpose.