Is thumb-sucking a bad habit?

Thumb-sucking is a common behavior for many infants, and some may continue doing it for several years. Some mothers may be concerned about this habit due to the negative comments they often hear. So, is thumb-sucking a bad habit, or is it a natural way for your child to self-soothe? Find the answers in this article.

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Sally Al Beer
Published on:Dec 3rd 2023 |Updated on:Feb 10th 2024
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Is thumb-sucking natural?

Thumb-sucking in infants is natural and instinctive. It is a self-soothing mechanism that babies use, and some ultrasound images have shown that fetuses may suck their thumbs even while still in the womb. The sucking motion is an instinctive movement that helps infants start breastfeeding immediately after birth.

Why do babies do it?

Babies suck their thumbs when feeling hungry. The sucking motion has a calming effect on the child, and while some babies prefer pacifiers, others choose to suck their thumbs. Also, some infants suck their thumbs to help them fall asleep.

Harmful effects of thumb-sucking

There are many myths about the harmful effects of thumb-sucking. However, this natural habit is generally harmless if the child stops before the permanent teeth emerge. Most children naturally outgrow this habit by the age of three. If the child sucks their thumb forcefully, it may lead to issues such as:

  • Problems with front teeth, whether baby or permanent.
  • Swelling in the thumb.
  • Increased susceptibility to germs and viruses.
  • Studies suggest thumb-sucking children are more prone to infections, especially ear infections.

Treatment

Since thumb-sucking is a healthy and natural habit, it usually does not require treatment, especially if the child is under three. However, if a parent wishes to discourage the habit, harsh methods like applying unpleasant-tasting substances to the thumb, or tying the thumb are not recommended. The best way to encourage a child to stop thumb-sucking is to distract them with alternatives such as soft toys or pacifiers.

Advantages of using a pacifier

A pacifier provides the child with the same soothing sensation as thumb-sucking but has several advantages:

  • Pacifiers are softer than thumbs, causing less damage to teeth and jaws.
  • Parents can control when the child uses the pacifier, offering it for comfort during colicky episodes or to help with sleep.
  • Pacifiers can be easily weaned by removing them from the child's routine.
  • Hygiene of the pacifier can be controlled, reducing the child's exposure to germs and infections.
  • Pacifiers decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Dear mom, don't blame yourself and don't worry about your child's thumb-sucking. Ignore what others say. If you feel worried or confused, always turn to experts in infant care and pediatricians for guidance.

 

Check out Expert Tips for Bathing a Baby

 

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Sally Al BeerBreastfeeding Counselor & Newborn Care Specialist

Sally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Sharjah. She moved to Ontario Canada where she worked as a pharmacist for several years. Meanwhile, she had two children and received great support from breastfeeding consultants. She enjoyed the breastfeeding journey which drove her to volunteer to help new mothers in this journey as well. She found her passion in the field of mother and baby and continued to volunteer after returning to live in the UAE, until she became an accredited breastfeeding specialist providing support to hundreds of breastfeeding mothers, by helping them overcome the challenges of breastfeeding.

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