Does your baby suck her thumb?And are you being told to watch that habit as she grows? Or are you curious as to how thumb sucking will affect sleep a little later down the line? Hopefully today’s post will tell you all you need to know when baby is a thumb sucker.
Why do babies suck their thumb?
Some babies instinctively suck their thumbs- even as early as in utero in some cases! The reason why they do this is because is provides comfort to them, and helps them to satisfy strong sucking reflexes. Some babies are satisfied with feeding from bottle or nipple, others need a little more to go on. Again, some babies will suck on a pacifier and some with prefer their thumb. And for the baby who has an urge to satisfy, finding it on one of their own hands is quite amazing! Babies need to suck, because the action of doing so helps to soothe and relax- it really is that simple.
Thumb sucking can be helpful…
For a baby who wants to suck, finding her thumb is the first step towards settling and soothing herself when she needs it- and that means more sleep. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t need you too, nor does it mean you should ‘leave her to it’, but it does mean she has the ability to exert a little control over her own self at an early age. Your baby’s thumb provides comfort to her, and that is helpful because there will be times where you cannot- whilst driving, for example. It’s inevitable that your baby is going to need to use her thumb to soothe herself when you’re unable to do so, so don’t worry about the habit right now.
For bottle feeding babies, thumb sucking has an extra appeal. Sucking on an empty bottle after a feed (when baby has had enough to eat but still wants to suck) is never a good idea, because then she is taking in extra air that is likely to cause painful wind. But is she has her thumb, she can continue to suck and still find comfort. Breastfed babies are able to continue sucking on a nipple to gain satisfaction instead- but that doesn’t mean they won’t find their thumbs either- don’t forget that mum needs a break too and if you’re not keen on using a pacifier then the thumb might just be the answer.
Thumb sucking can also be a little unhelpful…
Some parents dislike their baby’s thumb sucking habit, and indeed it can be something that is often commented on by others when you’re out and about too. While your baby is a baby, sucking her thumb is not an issue- but often thumb sucking is a habit that tends to go on a little longer than is necessary. What starts as essential comfort and the satisfying of a natural relfex, soon becomes a habit that is harder to break the older your baby becomes. You may have heard parents saying they would prefer to use a pacifier than a thumb, since a pacifier can be thrown away when baby is older- a thumb can’t! So why do we need to break the thumb sucking habit eventually?
Babies who go on to suck their thumbs past the age of two years or so, tend to give dentists the quivers. Many advise to break the habit as soon as the ‘big teeth’ come through, and some say that the habit should be broken even before that. The reason is simple- thumb sucking over time pushes the teeth out.
Additionally, society tends to dictate that an older child who sucks her thumb is a no no. The reasons for this are also simple- beyond a certain age, your child’s peers will gradually lose their need to suck. A thumb sucker is often alone in their habit and therefore more open to criticism from friends.
Like anything, it’s a personal parenting decision and if you are happy for your baby to suck her thumb now, and intend to worry about it later, that’s fine. Most agree that trying to stop a baby from sucking her thumb is pointless anyway. So how to help an older child to break the habit? Here are some tips:
- Don’t make a big deal out of it while your baby is still young. Babies need comfort and your baby is finding hers with her thumb. Leave the habit breaking until she is a little older and you are able to explain things better.
- Reduce the habit- offer alternatives to sucking. Rock your baby, massage her, sing to her. Give her other ways to find comfort that don’t involve thumb sucking.
- Maintain a calm and peaceful home. Often toddlers will resort to thumb sucking when they feel upset of anxious- if you eliminate this as much as possible, you can help to break the habit.
- Agree set times that your toddler can suck her thumb. For example, during the bedtime story only.
- Offer gentle reminders when you see your toddler sucking her thumb. Don’t get stressed!
- Distract your toddler so that she needs to use her hands for other activities instead.
- If she sucks her thumb when she’s tired, make sure you keep on top of naps and night time sleep.
- Take your toddler to the dentist and ask him to talk to her about thumb sucking. Often advice from another grown up works wonders!
Does your baby/ toddler have a thumb sucking habit? What are your top tips for dealing with it?