Thumb Sucking In Babies

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Thumb sucking in babies

Ever had your infant aggressively suck their thumb for no apparent reason? Or are you the parent of a kid who unwittingly puts their thumb in their mouth to gently suck on it? Below we’ll discuss why they do what they do and how you can help them kick the habit.

Is The Habit Of Thumb Sucking Normal In Babies?

The act of thumb sucking is natural and there are many kids out there who do the same. In fact, some ultrasounds reveal that the act of thumb sucking may start in the womb!

Why Do Babies Suck Their Thumb And How Long Does It Last?

There could be numerous reasons for a baby sucking their thumb. From beating away boredom to keeping anxiety at bay, it helps your child cope with the environment. While many parents look down upon it, it is actually an act of emotional maturity. It is a sign that the child is asserting independence. Rather than crying or seeking you out, they have used their own resources to adapt to their surroundings.

There is no right answer for the duration of thumb sucking as every child is different. As a rule of thumb (no pun intended), most kids stop it on their own after they are five years old.

Can Thumb Sucking Cause Any Problems?

During infancy, thumb sucking isn’t a problem. In fact, it gives you as a parent enough breathing room to pursue other activities. There are some misconceptions such as the belief that thumb sucking can cause speech disabilities. This is nothing but an unsubstantiated claim without any facts to prove it.

However, thumb sucking starts becoming a problem later as the child’s milk teeth begin to fall off. One of the thumb sucking effects includes its potential to interrupt the correct alignment of the teeth. It can also lead to an oral fixation later in life where they may replace the thumb with cigarettes, alcohol or binge eating.

When Should Parents Intervene?

As the main danger of thumb sucking is improper teeth alignment, parents should intervene when their kids begin to get their permanent teeth. The best solution is to follow a wait and watch approach. If they have not grown out of the habit even after they are no longer infants, you can use subtle ways to try to wean them away from the habit.

Effective Ways To Stop Thumb Sucking In Infants

Here is a list of approaches that can be used to kick the habit:

  • Don’t Be Harsh: One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is getting upset about thumb sucking. As the behaviour is prompted due to anxiety, adding negativity is only going to increase the stress level for the infant.
  • Finding Their Own Path: Most infants eventually grow out of the habit without any intervention being needed.
  • Distractions: Find out when your baby starts sucking on their thumb. These should help you identify the triggers for thumb sucking, such as watching television or being left alone in a room. You could distract your child using words or actions when you are in the room. In case you need to go out of your baby’s field of vision, get a toy that you know would keep them engaged.
  • Talk To Them: Use baby talk to help them understand that thumb sucking isn’t good for them. Though it may seem like a futile exercise, research has shown that infants are able to understand words better than previously thought.
  • YouTube Videos: Technology has helped parents access information easily. You could try the same on your infant by showing them videos of the dangers of thumb sucking. As a precaution, you could screen the videos that you feel are appropriate and build a playlist around it.
  • Praise: A study conducted on infants showed that they are well-aware of the concept of praise. Be sure to make them feel good about not sucking their thumb every day. However, avoid any kind of negative criticism as it could make them anxious.
  • Alternatives: Due to some of the dangers associated with thumb sucking, you could try alternatives such as a blanket or cuddly teddy bear.
  • Pacifiers: One can use pacifiers to wean their infants away from thumb sucking. Choose specific times during the day when they can use the pacifier and gradually reduce the timing till they don’t require it anymore.

Baby sucking on a pacifier

  • Mittens: You can try to physically cover the hands with the help of some soft gloves, mittens or a thumb guard.
  • Bitter Medicine: Apply some bitter ointment (that is safe to consume) on your child’s thumb to wean them away from the habit. Avoid making it a punishment by showing constant affection.

Thumb Sucking Vs Pacifiers

Below are the pros and cons associated with the two approaches used by parents to control baby finger sucking:

Thumb Sucking:

  • Easy Access
  • Teeth problems later in life
  • Emotional independence
  • Quicker sleep compared to pacifiers

Pacifiers:

  • Reduction in breastfeeding
  • May cause ear infections as it opens the auditory tubes
  • Control over the sucking by parents
  • Sucking in sleep reduces risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

While parents being worried about their kids is understandable, you must realize that thumb sucking is natural to most infants. Though there are some inherent dangers to it, a gradual approach of weaning your kids over time is enough for them to kick the habit.

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