• Wednesday, 19 June 2024
Why babies suck their thumbs and it's effects

Why babies suck their thumbs and it's effects

Thumb-sucking, a common habit among infants and toddlers, may begin in the womb as an involuntary action. It is considered a non-nutritive sucking habit alongside pacifiers, fingers, and more. 

Most babies stop sucking their thumbs from two to four years. However, others fail to outgrow the habit and proceed to carry it on throughout their childhood, causing long-term effects.

Why do babies suck their thumbs?

Thumb-sucking is considered an automatic reflex that self-soothes them because of hunger, boredom, or restlessness.

"Sucking is very natural for babies," pediatrician Robert Anderson tells WebMD. "It is very common for them to use their thumbs or fingers as part of their routine to find comfort and to soothe themselves."

Experts say that parents should start worrying about the behaviour when they are five years old, as it could be a manifestation of an emotional issue like anxiety. 

Additionally, the habit could cause dire risk factors that may be permanent.

The potential risks of thumb-sucking. 

Even though thumb-sucking is normal, if the child fails to outgrow the habit, the parent may need to intervene as the child may begin experiencing dental complications and speech problems. 

Experts say that the effects mostly arise after five years when the permanent teeth start growing.  

As a parent, you should actively caution the child against sucking their thumbs as they grow to prevent them from struggling to detach from the behaviour. 

"The trick is to work with the child to lessen her dependency on thumb sucking or finger sucking before the coping skill turns into a habit," Hayes says.


Apart from exposure to bacteria and dirt, thumb-sucking exerts pressure on the roof of the mouth, which causes bite problems like teeth overbite, whereby the upper teeth overlap the lower one. Also, vigorous thumb sucking causes an open bite, which means that the upper teeth and lower ones do not meet. 

Speech problems are also common, whereby the child may develop a lisp.

The dental issues are correctable with the orthodontic treatment like braces.

Experts urge parents to avoid reprimanding their kids whenever they practice the behaviour, stating that they should instead commend them for the times they try to refrain from the habit.

 "Do not tell your child, ‘You cannot suck your thumb anymore,'" pediatrician Robert Anderson tells WebMD. "Try to recognize him and praise him when he is not sucking his thumb instead of criticizing when he is."

In addition, experts say that if parents notice that their children are overindulging in thumb-sucking, they should find other items that the children can draw comfort from like a stuffed animal.

They also advise parents against resorting to items like thumb guards or mittens to solve the thumb-sucking issue, noting that it will frustrate the child more and make them anticipate when they will be free to suck their thumbs.  

Do not try a glove or a mitten on the hand as a quick fix to thumb or finger-sucking. "This will just frustrate them and cause more anxiety," Anderson says. "Likely, they are old enough to just take it off, and as a result, they will just want to suck more."

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