Thumb sucking is natural for babies. It’s their way of comforting and soothing themselves. They may also suck on fingers, hands and items such as pacifiers. Many parents find this habit bad in terms of social etiquettes and hygiene. Thumb sucking can have negative repercussions in the long run. So it should be corrected soon.
Babies start thumb sucking as early as when they are in the womb right from 29 to 30 weeks of gestation. After birth, your baby may start thumb sucking within the first 3 months. Majority of babies suck their thumb when they are tired, bored or in need of some form of comfort. It is a form of self-soothing and stress buster. Your baby will also do it when he wants to sleep or suck to get back to sleep if he wakes up at night.
Though thumb sucking provides independence for your baby, it has its own effects:
If your baby is an active thumb sucker, it takes some efforts to pull out the thumb from the mouth. This might have some long-term impact.
If he is a passive thumb sucker, his thumb will come out smoothly from the mouth.
The longer the habit continues the adverse are the effects.
Thumb sucking mostly impacts dental health and in some cases can cause other problems.
In case of older kids sucking the thumb pushes the tooth forward making it difficult to close the mouth. Teeth don’t overlap when a child bites together.
The effect is adverse in case the kid is more than 5 years and permanent teeth appear.
Aggressive thumb sucking may also result in a troubled speech of your child. Aggressive thumb suckers are at greater risk of damaging teeth than passive suckers.
Following are some of the conditions caused due to adverse thumb sucking.
This is due to the rubbing of your baby’s thumb's skin against the tongue forming a layer called callus on the thumb. This could be painful as the skin wears out and thumb is prone to injuries and bruises.
It is a condition where bacteria infect the roots of the nails. Constant pressure on the thumbnails creates a gap where tiny wounds can occur if your baby nibbles thus causing infection. Nails might turn light blue in color.
This is the infection of nails caused by herpes which can transfer from mouth to hands. If it is transferred to hands, it attacks the nails causing painful wounds.
If your child continues thumb-sucking, he might not be able to pronounce T's and D's. He may also have a lisp and thrust in his mouth.
Prolonged sucking also leads to misalignment of the thumb. The thumb might lose its shape, unlike other fingers.
Identify the reasons why your baby is sucking his thumb and treat them accordingly.
If your baby is sucking for feed, fix a schedule and feed early.
Distract your baby as soon as he sucks his thumb. Pick him up and point out to him the environment outside the window or take him out.
Most babies suck their thumb to sleep. Rock them to sleep or swaddle them.
Cover your baby's hands with mittens. Apply moisturizer if his thumbs are red and chapped.
In case of toddlers, gently tell a no and keep reminding them not to suck their thumb. Give them incentives and appreciate them if they listen.
Give some activity to the hands so that they are engaged.
Try a pacifier as a distraction. Pacifier habit is easier to break. Orthodontic pacifiers are better as they are designed to prevent teeth misalignment.
Apply lime juice to the fingers as infants and toddlers do not like the sour taste.
Give snacks to distract in case your baby is fed but still sucks his thumb.
Take help from your parents or your child’s teacher to remind them not to suck his thumb.
Make sure your child feels secure and comforted so he doesn’t resort to thumb sucking.
Ignoring is also a good strategy as your child will learn to stop thumb sucking on his own.
Babies give up thumb sucking habit when they are two to four years. They will give up due to constant reminders from parents or after seeing some other kids. If your child continues to suck thumb even after four years, identify the reason. Consult a pediatric and counsel your child. Regular visits to the dentist are recommended from age of one.
Patience and perseverance play an important role. Never punish your child or force not to suck their thumb. Let them stop it naturally.