Thumb Sucking, Finger Sucking And Pacifier Use

The sucking reflex is naturally present in every child at birth. Due to this, with time, babies start sucking everything which comes near their mouth.

It is common to see newly born babies sucking their fist and palms. However, with time this habit gets shifted to thumb sucking and finger sucking as the newborn baby turns into a toddler. The sucking habit of the baby lasts till approximately the age of 3.

What causes this habit?

Some of the reasons why babies develop thumb and finger sucking include:

  1. seeking comfort when they are tired and irritated – sucking is calming
  2. seeking fulfilment when they are hungry
  3. trying to soothe themselves when they are anxious or stressed

The effects of thumb and finger sucking

Sucking is not harmful. However, it is also not a good habit. Some of the side effects include the development of a cross and open bite as well as movement of the teeth.

How to stop thumb and finger sucking?

The habit of thumb and finger sucking can be resolved using the following useful tips:

  1. try not punish your child for sucking their thumb or finger, instead give them a gift or reward when they refrain from sucking
  2. try to fix the source of the problem (tiredness, irritation, hunger, anxiety) that sets off the sucking behaviour
  3. try to make your child understand that sucking can have an adverse effect on their teeth and mouth
  4. seek assistance from experts who have successfully stopped thumb or finger sucking many times
  5. try applying a bandage over the particular thumb or finger that is sucked as it can act as a reminder to the child that sucking is no longer appropriate

The pros and cons of pacifiers

For many parents, pacifiers are the best thing that science and manufacturers invented. They are the perfect and ideal way through which parents can calm their baby for short periods of time. However, if a baby gets into a strong habit of using a pacifier, it may cause a problem as pacifiers have the same side effects as thumb and finger sucking (as listed above).

The only benefit of the pacifier over thumb or finger sucking is that the pacifier is within the parent’s control. A parent can choose to take it away at an appropriate age. This is not possible with a child who sucks on their thumb or fingers.

How to overcome pacifier addiction?

In the initial stages, a child may be highly unsettled when a pacifier is removed. However, with time, the baby will adapt and find other ways to soothe themselves. Parents might implement a routine where the pacifier is given only twice a day, allowing the child time to get used to not having the comfort of the pacifier. When the child becomes accustomed to having the pacifier only twice per day, then it can be given once per day before being completely removed.