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Thumb Sucks

| Updated: February 18, 2022 15:48

Parenting is like an exhausting, never-ending marathon wherein you have to continually tailor the baby’s routine to grow with the child. Just when you’re set with the three naps cycle, it’s time to drop down to two naps. After struggling to get the baby to drink from the bottle, it’s time to wean them off from the bottle once they turn one. It is a journey requiring constant change and adaptability from you and the baby. Similarly, thumb sucking, which started as an innocuous, adorable activity that helped your baby self soothe soon, now poses a danger to your toddler’s gummy smile.

Babies are born with an intrinsic need to suck. This genetically coded need helps them derive sustenance from their mother’s breast. Babies begin sucking their thumb right from the womb. It helps provide a sense of security and comfort through childhood, helping them fall asleep, and even self soothe if they awaken in the middle of the night. Thumb sucking becomes a reflex for many children in times of stress or discomfort – for example, when they start playschool or meet new people or when they find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. 

Thumb and finger sucking is only harmful if it goes on for too long. It should be weaned off between the ages of three and four. The reason behind it are as follows –

• Prolonged digit sucking can lead to an alteration in the alignment of the

child’s jaws.

• It also affects the shape of the palate (roof of the mouth).

• The child may end up with callouses and a sore thumb because of vigorous


• An overbite can develop over time by changing the angle at which teeth


• Speech problems such as a lisp may develop because of thumb sucking.

Some of these problems can correct themselves with time, but others may require outside intervention such as braces and speech therapy. Hence it is better to wean your child off when they are younger, but to definitely put an end to the habit before the permanent teeth start coming in at the age of six.

Baby A though never a thumb sucker but was partial to the pacifier. The drawbacks of the pacifier are similar to the thumb. There are orthodontically safe pacifiers explicitly shaped to maintain jaw alignment. Yet the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that all non-nutritive sucking be stopped between the ages of two and four, including sucking on a pacifier.  

How to wean baby off pacifier and thumb sucking? 

  • To let it happen on its own – Many children outgrow the habit themselves.

When Baby A was five months old, she started to wean herself off, and by the time

she was seven months, she would spit the pacifier out of her mouth. Similarly, when

children go to school and don’t see any other child sucking their thumb, they might

automatically feel self-conscious and drop the habit.

  • To use positive reinforcement – Scolding and punishing may traumatise the

child. They might hold onto the habit for comfort, but using a reward-based system

will incentivise the child to let go.

  • If the child is older, it will help to talk – Logic can be your ally when dealing

with older children. To explain the adverse effects of their habit and to ask them for

the solution would be a great way to go about it.

  • When dealing with pacifiers, a great way is to make holes in the pacifier using

scissors so that sucking isn’t as satisfying anymore. It’s a tear free way to wean them


My friend’s younger brother was eight years old and a committed thumb sucker.

Despite ardent pleas from his mother, he refused to quit the thumb. Eventually, she rubbed bitter neem juice on it; he had no choice but to stop. This and using mittens to seal off the access for younger children are more extreme but proven ways to ditch the habit. 

It may seem like a stressful subject right now, but know that it is not insurmountable. For all the transitions you will make in your baby’s life, some will be easy and some more challenging. It is difficult for every parent; Baby A may not be a pacifier junkie, but at nineteen months, she still loves her bottle. We are in this together.

Devanshi Shanay Shah is a bookworm. She is a Master’s in literature and writing from the University of Cambridge. A voracious reader, she has an appetite for fiction and poetry. Mother to one-year-old Ayesha who doesn’t give her much time for any of the things mentioned above. But yes, she manages to work on her debut novel.

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