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Thumb Sucking

Whether breast feeding or not, whether using a pacifier or not, some children will suck their thumbs. The reason? Just what you’d imagine: oral comfort, plain and simple. Thumb sucking occurs in perfectly well-balanced babies and usually has no negative consequences. While it’s true that it may push the front baby teeth slightly forward, thumb sucking won’t affect the permanent ones unless it persists beyond age five, which is extremely rare. The habit usually lasts a few years and disappears on its own if you manage not to interfere. Also, think about it: Thumb sucking has at least one advantage over a pacifier: You don’t have to wake up several times a night to plop a thumb back into Lucy’s mouth.

WHAT TO DO

Offer other forms of oral comfort—bottle, breast, and optional pacifier—on demand so Lucy is not deprived of sucking opportunities.

If thumb sucking occurs, ignore it. Since it’s her own thumb, you have very little say in the matter if Lucy decides it’s right for her.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Don’t attempt to distract Lucy’s hand.

Don’t use restrictive devices or sour solutions on the thumb.

Don’t remove her thumb each time it goes into her mouth.

In Older Children

In very rare cases, thumb sucking persists beyond the age of four, usually as a result of negative parental reinforcement, i.e., too much attention, discouragement, and worry over the behavior. This late in development, thumb sucking can misalign the permanent teeth and cause a later need for braces. Unfortunately, breaking the habit is difficult. The only efficient tactic to use with Jimmy is the same one you’d use with Lucy: ignore it. Peer pressure—namely, being called a baby by other kids—will be a far more effective deterrent than anything you might muster.