Thumb, Finger or Pacifier Sucking
All healthy newborns start life and sustain it with an urge to suck. Embryos have been observed sucking their thumbs while in the womb. Sucking is one of a baby’s inherent reflexes that is an essential ability for basic survival—if it were not present, the infant would not seek food or nourishment.
For many infants, the sucking instinct is not satisfied by feedings alone. Non-nutritive sucking, that is sucking thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects, is a healthy normal behavior and offers young children a feeling of security, comfort, pleasure and relaxation during the first few years of life. This habit helps children to cope with different situations and emotions. Virtually all young children at one time or another place their fingers, fist, pacifier, thumb, or other objects in their mouth to suck. As children grow and develop, most naturally discontinue this habit.
Thumb and Finger Sucking
Thumb and finger sucking is a natural, normal behavior for infants. Most young children suck their thumbs or fingers at some time, and it is an appropriate and useful behavior that allows them to soothe and entertain themselves. Children usually turn to their thumb or finger when they are tired, stressed, upset or bored. And it is not unusual for a thumb or finger sucker to simultaneously engage in other self-comforting behaviors like pulling at a strand of hair, touching the ear, or holding on to a favorite blanket or toy. Even when the habit lingers past infancy, thumb or finger sucking is rarely something to be concerned about. The majority of children give up such habits on their own by age 2. If children do not stop on their own, the habit should be discouraged after age 4.
Some children prefer sucking a pacifier to a thumb or finger. Pacifier use elicits strong responses from parents and caregivers. Some oppose it because of the way it looks. Some feel that it’s “pacifying” a child with an object. And others believe that using the pacifier can harm the child. But pacifiers do not cause any medical or psychological problems, and like thumb or finger sucking, using a pacifier during the early years of development generally does not permanently alter the position of the teeth or jaw. If a child wants to suck beyond what nursing or bottle-feeding provides, a pacifier will satisfy that need.
Reprinted with the permission of the California Childcare Health Program.
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