How to Encourage Thumb Sucking

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The need for babies to suck is so strong that many start sucking on their fingers while still in the womb. Parents can help babies develop self-soothing and comforting skills early on by gently encouraging thumb sucking.

  • Watch for cues that a newborn is trying to get her hand to her mouth.

  • Help baby bring her hand to her mouth.

  • Hold her hand gently at her mouth if she is starting to suck. If she protests, remove her hand and comfort her.

  • Respect her natural inclination to suck on her fingers or not.

  • Avoid removing other fingers from her mouth, as she may be just exploring or prefer to suck on them. Eventually she'll probably gravitate to the thumb when she has more dexterity.

Tips & Warnings

  • If people offer unsolicited comments about the dangers of thumb sucking on baby's teeth, remind yourself how clever your baby is to have found a convenient way to calm and settle herself. And you are not forced to get up at night to put a pacifier back in her mouth. Besides, many children give up thumb sucking on their own before any threat to dental development.
  • Avoid sweetening the taste of the thumb with sugar water, honey or any other sweet substance. If she wants to suck on her thumb, she'll do it without sweet enhancements.
  • Do not be surprised if baby starts becoming a switch hitter with thumb sucking. She may suck one or the other as her brain decides which hand will be dominant.
  • If thumb sucking progresses, be aware that thumb sucking in the preschool years may cause dental problems. It is certainly not a reason to stop a baby who has figured out a handy tool for self-soothing. Consult with your child's health care provider or a pediatric dentist, if concerned.
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