Sucking on a dummy or thumb can be soothing for your baby, helping them calm themselves. This is referred to as self-soothing and is perfectly normal. Usually, an infant begins to lose this need between 6 and 9 months of age.

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Parents worry about the possibility of such sucking being a hard to break habit. There are ways to allow your child to use self-soothing while preventing the sucking on a dummy or thumb to become a hard-to-break habit.

Pros and Cons of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking infants have a ready soother always available. They may begin thumb sucking initially to fall asleep. Thumb sucking can serve as a convenient clue to let you know when your child is tired.

The problem, of course, if that thumb sucking can be habit forming. The advantage of having a thumb always available can make breaking the thumb sucking habit difficult; you cannot take a child’s thumb away. Additionally, some physical problems can be caused by thumb sucking. The formation of a child’s mouth and teeth can be harmed. Additionally, the baby’s thumb and mouth can become chapped and sore.

Pros and Cons of Dummies

A dummy or pacifier calms a crying baby quickly and satisfies the sucking reflex. This is especially helpful on outings. They also help your baby fall asleep quickly.

Not all babies are proficient at keeping a dummy or pacifier in their mouth, which means either Mum or Dad needs to be available to put in back in baby’s mouth. This is not a fun task in the middle of the night!

If a dummy or pacifier is used too early in an infant’s life, it can disrupt the nursing or bottle-feeding schedule. As with thumb sucking, using a dummy can be a hard habit to break and harm teeth development.

So, which is best, a dummy or a thumb? In addition, which habit is easiest to break?

Steps to Take to Help Your Child Stop

“An Ounce of Prevention . . .”

Try to avoid using a pacifier the first few week of breastfeeding. Generally speaking, additional sucking is not required during this period. Most parent report starting between 3 and 6 weeks of age, when their baby becomes fussy at night or between feedings.

When your infant first starts wanting to self-soothe, try distraction with a toy, stuffed animal, or talking to them before reaching for a dummy. Frequently, a distracted infant will stop sucking on their thumb or a dummy, especially if you start using this technique when they first start self-soothing.

Before giving your child a pacifier, make sure their fussing is not a sign of a need that is not being met. Make sure they are dry and not hungry. Also, hold your baby and see if they just desire some comfort and nurturing from you.

Try to limit your baby’s use of a dummy or thumb for self-soothing. Avoid attaching it to the clothing of an older infant. You do not want it to be always available.

Generally speaking, a child will stop sucking on their thumb or dummy when they no longer need it. You can use the same methods listed above to limit use when you and your child decide it is time to stop. Keeping a child busy and distracted frequently will lessen the need for sucking during the day. Nighttime soothing may last longer. When you attempt to limit or stop thumb or dummy sucking, remember:

  • Avoid turning it into a struggle for control. Using force or threats usually backfires and makes a child battle to keep self-soothing.
  • Reward systems work well. Try giving small rewards for lengthening times without thumb or dummy sucking.
  • Try to initiate your child’s help and compliance. Explain it is time to stop and why. (“You are getting older now.” “It is hard to suck and play at the same time.”) The process is easier with cooperation.

Remember that sucking is a normal need for infants and very young children. Many parents find that their baby chooses either a thumb or a dummy without much input and encouragement from them. A baby who wants to suck, but does not like their thumb, may suck on a soft toy or blanket. Introducing a dummy to baby is a much better alternative.

If your child is still sucking on a thumb or dummy after the age of six or seven, consider consulting your pediatrician to make sure there are not additional, underlying health reasons. They can also provide some additional advice specific for your child’s need, temperament, personality, and age.

With understanding, love, and patience, you can help your child successfully self-sooth and stop doing so when they outgrow the need.

 

 

 

 

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