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Thumb Sucking: Should you Encourage or Discourage it in your Baby?

Paul Banas
Author Paul Banas
Submitted 21-11-2006

Most babies and young children tend to suck their thumbs. While you may be concerned about your child’s habit, it is actually quite harmless.

Here are a few facts about thumb sucking:

  • Babies are born with the urge to suck their thumbs.

  • It is a natural reflex on their part.

  • It helps them relieve stress and remain calm.

  • It leads to the release of endorphins, which cause the baby to experience feelings of pleasure.

  • Thumb sucking does not really lead to prominent teeth, except in children who are growing permanent teeth.

  • Thumb sucking does not cause improper growth of the thumb.

  • Thumb sucking children are not mentally deficient, emotionally insecure, or maladjusted.

  • Generally, children give up sucking their thumbs by about 2–3 years of age. A few children, however, do continue to do so beyond the age of four years.

Many parents opt for a pacifier early on, which takes the place of the thumb. While less immediately practical (you have to buy, wash, find and replace them), they do have the advantage of making it easier to break the sucking habit at the appropriate time (either at 3-4 months or at 18 months) by just taking the pacifier away. Thumbsuckers sometimes do not break the habit until they are three, four, or even five years old.

While encouraging older children to give up sucking their thumbs, remember to:

  • Provide your child with an alternative means of coping with stress.

  • Avoid pulling the thumb out of your child’s mouth.

  • Avoid criticizing  the child about thumb sucking.

  • Identify events that prompt your child to indulge in thumb sucking and deal with them appropriately.