Thumb sucking or Pacifier (dummy) or none

Thumb sucking and dummy sucking is a habit a child gets as it gives her comfort. We know now that a baby sucks her thumb while in the womb(seen on ultrasonograph) probably because as this strengthens the sucking muscles, but perhaps she needs some soothing whilst inside the womb also especially if mother is depressed or tensed up.

Q 1. When a baby sucks her thumb does it means she is hungry.
If it is her feeding time and she is sucking her thumb she is probably hungry but after a full meal she is still sucking, it is a comfort sucking. After 6 month of age sucking a thumb is usually a comfort sucking.

Q 2.Does thumb sucking do any harm?
If thumb sucking or pacifier sucking is stopped before 3 to 4 years it is not harmful. If continued beyond that period then there is a possibility that malocclusion of teeth can occur.(Malocclusions does not always occur due to sucking habits, there are other reasons for this also). It usually occurs if child sucks thumb all the time especially with a force, thrusting the upper jaw forward. If thumb sucking is stopped at this stage this malocclusion is a temporary defect and resolves on its own. However if thumb sucking is continued beyond 7 years of age when permanent teeth erupt, then this can become a permanent defect. This then needs to be corrected by orthodontic treatment.

Q3. Is using pacifier (dummy) better than thumb sucking?
There is quite a lot of debate as to which is better. Advantage of thumb sucking is that baby puts this in mouth whenever she wants to. She is depended on her caregivers for everything e.g. when she wants to be fed, when she wants to be lifted up and talked to etc. but for comfort she can put the thumb in her mouth on her own. One can imagine how much satisfaction this must be giving her. But for sucking the pacifier she has to cry before this is put in her mouth. On the other hand when one wants to break the habit it is probably easier to get a baby off the pacifier sucking than thumb sucking, as one can remove the pacifier.
Many times one does not have a choice. Some babies do not get used to thumb sucking and some babies refuse the pacifier.


Q4.Does this habit of sucking the thumb or pacifier produces infections.
Pacifiers need to be boiled just like bottles. Silicone orthodontic ones are better. One can clip the string to the baby’s clothes so that it does not fall on the floor but do not put the string round the neck as this can cause strangulation.
Babies after 8 to 9 months of age will pick up everything that they see and put these in their mouths. So babies who suck their thumbs will get as much as infection as those who do not, if their surroundings are not clean.
But remember that how much you keep everything clean, you can not completely get rid of germs, neither it is desirable to do so. So babies will get some infections now and then. However if the germs are few these infections are minor and babies get better quickly.


Q4.Does thumb sucking or using pacifiers interfere with feeding.
Thumb sucking does not interfere with feeding but pacifiers if used before a baby is 6 weeks of age will interfere with establishing breast feeding. However even beyond 6 weeks of age one should always keep on checking the baby’s weight, once a month to see that the baby is gaining weight. That is the only way of being sure that the baby is getting enough milk.

Q4. I do not want my baby to get used to any one of these habits so should I discourage my baby putting thumb in the mouth right from beginning.
I have seen a father of a 3 day old baby taking out the thumb from baby’s mouth when she is sucking her thumb. Imagine how frustrated that baby must be feeling when she cannot understand that someone who loves her so much Is not allowing her to do what she wants to do.
Actually what happens in practice is that when one does not allow any of these habits, then the baby starts finding comfort in breast feeding or bottle feeding so she goes to bed with bottle or breast in the mouth. When a bottle or breast feeding becomes a comfort seeking habit, It is very difficult to stop bottle or breast feeding later on. Continuing these habits beyond one and half years of age causes tooth decay

Q5. When should one try to stop these habits and how to stop it.

.I think one should try to stop these habits when a child is more than one and half to two years of age. Remember that these habits provide soothing and comfort to your child. Also at times it is due to boredom. So you have to provide comfort to your child as well as keep her occupied either with playing or talking with her with baby talk. This will also stimulate her brain and thus she will learn to talk early. Initially one can allow her to suck before she goes to sleep. Later on this can be stopped by telling her stories at bedtime or singing to her.
Trying to stop thumb sucking by restraining, I think is cruel. Putting anything bitter on the thumb does not help because the child will suck the bitter medicine also.

Dr Raj Rani Mitra

2 Responses to “Thumb sucking or Pacifier (dummy) or none”

  1. fathima Says:

    i have 10 months old baby boy.she used to suck his thumb when he was about 2 months.people started to advice me that it is a bad habbitt and i wont be able to stop it when he grows up.some people even forced me to used a pacifier,but others disagreed.Since everyone was making a big issue out of it i decided not use anything.
    i always nursed him to a result now my baby is sleeping with me and he wants me to feed untill he falls asleep.I think now he s used to it.
    he wants me to feed even wen he wakes up in the night.

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