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Your Baby Week Nine

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Updated May 21, 2012

4 of 7

Week Nine Q&A - Thumb vs. Pacifier
A pacifier can help soothe and calm a crying baby.

A pacifier can help soothe and calm a crying baby.

Photo © Vincent Iannelli, MD

Q. My baby keeps putting her fingers in her mouth and sucks on them. I try to take them out and put a pacifier in, but she seems to prefer her fingers. Which is better?

A. Parents often think that it is better to let their baby suck on a pacifier instead of their fingers or thumb. They figure that they can always take away a pacifier, but they can't take away their baby's thumb or fingers.

The problem with this reasoning is that:

  • few parents actually take away the pacifier
  • there is nothing to stop a child from switching to their thumb or fingers if you don't let them have a pacifier anymore

Non-Nutritive Sucking

Non-nutritive sucking (sucking for reasons other than getting food) is thought to be a normal behavior for most infants. In fact, some experts believe that "normally developed infants have an inherent, biological drive for sucking" that helps them calm and soothe themselves. So it shouldn't be a surprise that up to 90% of infants suck on a thumb, finger, or pacifier.

Most parents worry that the pacifier or thumb will still be in their child's mouth as they go off to kindergarten. However, many infants give up the habit before they even start walking.

Thumb or Fingers versus Pacifiers

Although you often don't have a choice and it will be up to your baby's preference, you likely don't need to discourage thumb or finger sucking, since:
  • your baby has ready access to her fingers or thumb
  • parents often overuse pacifiers, putting them in their baby's mouth every time they cry, while your baby can use her fingers or thumb when she really needs it
  • your baby can stop sucking on her fingers or thumb when she is ready, while you may continue to use a pacifier longer than necessary, making it more likely to become a habit


Sources:

Infant oral health and oral habits. Nowak AJ - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-OCT-2000; 47(5): 1043-66.

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