Reflexively, your baby is born with the ability to suck. It makes sense. After all, your little one must be able to suck to get nutrients, whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Thumb sucking also has the ability to soothe and calm your little one. However, there are moments as your child gets older where thumb-sucking may become a problem. Your pediatrician can provide you with the tips and tricks to help your little one grow out of this habit.
This is a normal habit in newborns that typically goes away around 6-7 months; however, this seemingly innocuous habit may actually be a cause for concern if thumb sucking continues beyond 2-4 years, where it can alter the shape of the face or cause teeth to stick out.
When to Consider a Pacifier
Many children desire a pacifier between feedings, but this should not be a replacement for feedings. It’s important to recognize when your child is sucking because they are hungry and whether they merely want to self-soothe. If your child still has an urge to suck and they don’t need to nurse, then a pacifier is a safe way to soothe and ease your child’s needs (if they want it).
It is safe for children to use a pacifier while sleeping, whether at bedtime or when they go down for their naps. Just prepare for babies to wake up fussy in the middle of the night when the pacifier falls out of their mouths, as they aren’t able to place the pacifier back in their mouths themselves. Make sure that you do not try to place the pacifier on a string around your baby’s neck or tie it to the crib, as this can lead to a serious and potentially deadly injury.
How to Phase Out the Pacifier
There will come a point when your child will need to give up their pacifier. While the medical community has different age ranges, The American Dental Association recommends that children stop using a pacifier by age 2, as going beyond two years old could alter the alignment of your child’s teeth or impact the shape of their face.
Here are some tips to phase out the pacifier,
- Do not tease or punish your child for using a pacifier, but instead praise them when they do not use it. Provide them with rewards when they go without it.
- Some children use pacifiers out of boredom, so give your child something to do to distract them such as playing with a game or toy (to keep their hands busy).
- If incentives and rewards aren’t enough and your child is still using a pacifier, your pediatrician may recommend a “thumb guard” that can prevent your child from sucking their thumb. While you may feel in a rush to get rid of your child’s pacifier, it’s important to be patient. All children eventually stop this habit.
Even if you are concerned about your child’s thumb-sucking, it’s important to know that most children do grow out of it not long after starting school. While you can provide them with helpful ways to ditch the habit it’s important not to put pressure on them. With the help of your pediatrician, your child can and will outgrow this habit.