MOMMYPAGE

Pacifier Use, Thumb sucking, and Finger Sucking

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All babies are born with a need and instinct to suck. Sucking brings comfort and, usually, food. Pacifiers, thumbs and fingers are very easy ways for babies to find comfort between feeding times and to relax themselves to be ready for sleep.

Facts about Pacifiers and Thumb/Finger Sucking

“Thumb sucking is a common childhood behavior that is estimated to occur in 23% to 45% of children aged 1 to 4 years” (Ellingson & Rapp) while other estimates show that “roughly 75 to 85 percent of children in Western countries use a pacifier” (Sexton & Natale).

Since sucking is a natural reflex, there shouldn’t be much concern over a baby doing it. “It makes them feel secure and happy, and it helps them learn about their world. Placing a thumb or another finger in the mouth provides some children with a sense of security during difficult periods, such as when they are separated from their parents, surrounded by strangers or in an unfamiliar environment” (ADA).

The Dangers of Pacifier, Thumb and Finger Sucking

Most children wean themselves from pacifier, thumb or finger sucking between the ages of two and four, and usually, breaking the pacifier habit is easier, since fingers and thumbs are always available.

Continued thumb/finger sucking into the preschool years can lead to issues with erupting teeth and their positioning in the mouth, as well as the development of the palate (roof of the mouth). “Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to experience difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs” (ADA). There is no difference between thumb, finger and pacifier sucking in terms of how the habit affects the development of the mouth and teeth, and studies have shown no significant difference between “orthodontic” pacifiers and non-orthodontic pacifiers.

Tips to Help Kick the Habit

1)      Be sure that your child is ready to stop sucking his/her thumb, finger or pacifier.

2)      Going “cold turkey” may not work, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t try this or any method a couple of times until it takes.

3)      Pay attention to under which circumstances your child sucks his/her thumb or asks for the pacifier. Those may be the kinds of situations where you need to help them find another way to deal with their anxiety.

4)      Restrict pacifier use to bedtime only.

5)      Praise the child when the child gets through a normally stressful time without sucking his/her thumb, instead of scolding him/her when he/she does.

The key is not to panic and not to make giving up the sucking habit stressful. About the time they’re ready to stop is about the time when they need to learn different coping mechanisms anyway. This can help them develop a greater level of independence and self-sufficiency, particularly when facing the prospect of pre-school or Kindergarten.

Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.

 

Sources:

“Analysis and Treatment of Finger Sucking” by Sherry A. Ellingson & John T. Rapp, et. al., Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 2000. Spring 2000. 33(1):41-52. Web. Feb 23, 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1284221/pdf/10738951.pdf

Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Web. Feb 23, 2012.

http://www.aapd.org/publications/brochures/tfphabits.asp

“Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers” by Sumi Sexton, MD, & Ruby Natale, PhD., PsyD. American Family Physician. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Apr 15;79(8):681-685. Web. Feb 23, 2012.

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0415/p681.html

Thumb sucking and Pacifier Use. American Dental Association. Web. Feb 23, 2012.

http://www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_77.pdf

Thumb Sucking Baby. WhattoExpect.com. Web. Feb 23, 2012.

http://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/ask-heidi/thumb-sucking-baby.aspx

 

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