Baby Thumb Sucking

image001There are babies that start sucking their thumbs a few weeks after birth. As for other babies, the thrill of sucking the thumb was a habit that was perfected well before their birth and the proof of this can be seen in the ultrasound pictures. Regardless of whether your little ones started sucking their thumb before or after birth, it is not easy to look the other way especially when you wonder whether the habit will carry on until the child is in middle school. You might also get worried that baby thumb sucking habit might affect his/her dental formula and eventually force you to make several trips to the orthodontist. Here is why babies suck their thumb and what you can do if it bothers you.

Why Do Babies Suck Their Thumbs?

1. Comforting

Babies like to suck their thumbs because they find it to be calming and comforting. That is why you will notice that your baby sucks his/her thumb when he/she is adjusting to new challenges such as pre-school and daycare, or when they’re sick, bored, scared or tired. Your baby may also suck his/her thumb when he/she wants to sleep and this is the only way your baby knows how to lull himself/herself to sleep.

2. Born to Suck Their Thumb

Sucking, in general, is a reflex all babies are born with because it is the only way they can feed (before they learn to chew). Therefore, it is a good thing that your baby can suck.

3. Calm Babies Down

Even if your baby has just finished feeding, you might find her clamoring for more sucking. However, that does not mean that he/she is not full. Other than sucking to fill their tummies, babies need the kind of sucking that mellows them out, called “non-nutritive” sucking, hence pacifiers are invented. Sucking helps your baby to calm down and there are some babies that love non-nutritive sucking more than others.

What Should You Do About Baby Thumb Sucking?

1. For Kids Under 5 Years Old

What to Do


Don’t worry

According to the ADA (American Dental Association), most babies can suck their thumbs safely without risking damage to their jaws or teeth alignment. However, according to experts, the tongue’s thrust and the intensity of sucking is what leads to deformed teeth. Therefore, if your child sucks vigorously, start to curb the habit. Also, if your baby’s thumb gets chapped and red from sucking, apply some moisturizer when he/she is asleep.

Let it go

Nagging or punishing your pre-schooler about thumb sucking will not be helpful because most children do not even realize that they are sucking their thumb. Pressuring your child to stop thumb sucking might just intensify the desire to suck their thumb.

Wait it out

Most children stop thumb sucking when they find new ways of comforting or calming themselves. If your child sucks his/her thumb when tired or hungry, he/she will soon learn to tuck himself/herself in bed or open the refrigerator and eventually stop thumb sucking.

Preempt the sucking with other activities

Try to identify the different places and times your child sucks his/her thumb. Is it when watching TV or bored? Once you have, you can try to preempt his/her thumb sucking with an activity such as giving him/her a rubber ball which he/she can squeeze when watching TV.

2. For Kids Over 5 Years Old

What to Do


Help the child to stop sucking her thumb during daytime

Most children who are 5 are developmentally ready and have reached a reasoning age, so they are able to cooperate with their parents to stop the habit of thumb sucking. You should first ensure that your child is committed to stopping this habit and you can do so by showing him/her the effects of thumb sucking on his/her teeth.

Help the child stop thumb sucking when sleeping

Helping your child to stop thumb sucking when asleep is no easy task. Therefore, address the thumb sucking habit when they’re asleep and when they’re awake for more impact. As a parent, you should plan your time so that you are available when your child is asleep to prevent him/her from sucking his/her thumb. You can also try using puppet socks or gloves on your child when he/she is sleeping.

Praise your child’s efforts with incentives

Give praise and incentives to your child whenever he/she is not sucking his/her thumb in situations where he/she previously did. This is a sure way to build your child’s self-confidence and encourage him/her to stop the habit. You can also give him/her a reward such as a snack, extra bedtime story or one dime.

If you would like to get more information on how you can stop baby thumb sucking, check out this video below:

How to Prevent Baby Thumb Sucking

If your baby has the need to suck, try giving him/her a pacifier as an alternative of the thumb especially when he/she needs comforting. However, do not give your child the pacifier when he/she is hungry and do not overuse it. The good thing about pacifiers is that they can be controlled as your child grows unlike thumb sucking. If your child is over one year old, you should not worry that he/she will start thumb sucking when you take away the pacifier. Besides, avoid expressing your dissatisfaction of that habit near your child. Here is what else you should avoid:

  • Applying bitter tasting medications to your child’s thumb: Chances are that the child will learn to wash off the medication or suck another finger.
  • Elastic splints or wrap: Placing elastic splint or wrap around your child’s wrist and finger is discomforting. It also causes temporary numbness, swelling and blueness of his/her arm in the morning.
  • Dental appliances: This is normally a reminder bar. It is placed on the upper part of the baby’s mouth.

Click on this video to see more on how you can prevent baby thumb sucking:

When to See a Doctor

  • If your children constantly sucks their thumb over 4 years old.
  • The child has emotional problems.
  • The child’s permanent teeth seem to be crooked.
  • The child’s teacher is concerned over your child’s thumb sucking in class.
  • Your 5 year old child does not stop sucking their thumb when teased by his/her peers.
  • Your 6 years old child sucks his/her thumb at all times.