8 Ways To Wean Your Baby Off Thumb Sucking

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Mercier, ND, PhD
Written by Shaheen Naser

Most children have a propensity to suck on their thumbs. This behavior usually begins in early childhood and may progress to the point where you must wean your baby off thumb sucking. Besides being a habit that is unhygienic, thumb sucking can have some adverse effects. For instance, sucking the thumb aggressively and repeatedly can raise your child’s chance of developing oral abnormalities. Continue reading to learn a few tips that may help your child quit sucking their thumb.

Why Do Babies Suck Their Thumbs?

Babies usually suck their thumbs as they have natural rooting and sucking reflexes. These reflexes cause them to put their thumbs/fingers inside their mouths. Thumb sucking is also believed to make an infant feel safe and secure. Some babies develop this habit when they are in need of soothing, especially while going to sleep (1).

So, when do babies begin thumb sucking? Find out in the next section.

When Do Babies Start Sucking Their Thumbs?

Babies can start sucking their thumbs from as early as the 29th week of gestation. This habit develops as they are born and may continue up to 2-3 years. However, most children stop doing this by the time they are 6 months old.

Thumb sucking is not a major issue in children. In fact, it is not of much concern until a child’s permanent teeth begin appearing. Once the permanent teeth begin to appear, it is best for your child to stop this habit to prevent damage to the teeth or problems with jaw alignment (2).

Most children tend to stop thumb sucking on their own. However, if this is carried too far, it may be time for you to intervene and help your child break this habit.

Listed below are some effective ways that can assist in stopping your child from sucking his/her thumb.

8 Best Ways To Stop Thumb Sucking In Babies

  1. Try And Limit The Time
  2. Warn About Germs
  3. Try Out Some Chewelry
  4. Observe When They Tend To Do It
  5. Praise Or Reward
  6. Avoid Using Finger Gloves/Covers
  7. Divert The Attention
  8. Be Patient And Wait A Wee Bit Longer

How To Stop Thumb Sucking In Babies

1. Try And Limit The Time

Start by limiting your child’s thumb sucking habit to the bedroom or before a nap. Try and explain to them that sucking the thumb is not to be done in public.

2. Warn About Germs

Warn your child about the germs on his/her hands and how sucking the thumb can cause infectious germs to spread and trigger diseases. The fear of ingesting harmful germs may make some children give up the habit of thumb sucking.

3. Try Out Some Chewelry

Switching to chewelry, which is basically chewable jewelry, can help your toddler quit thumb sucking. You may find many options for this online.

4. Observe When They Tend To Do It

Children tend to suck their thumbs either during a nap or while watching television. Observe your child’s favorite thumb sucking time. If it is while watching television, go ahead and switch it off for a few minutes. You can also put a piece of chewelry in their mouth during bedtime to help your child stop thumb sucking.

5. Praise Or Reward

Praise or reward your toddler every time he/she does not have the thumb in the mouth. Give a sticker for every hour your child goes without sucking his/her thumb. This may make them put more effort into quitting the habit.

6. Avoid Using Finger Gloves/Covers

Don’t put on a pair of gloves/covers on your toddler’s hands to make him/her quit the habit. This will only increase your child’s anxiety. And when they are old enough, they may just remove the gloves and suck their thumbs again. Instead, help them out of it slowly.

7. Divert Their Attention

Try to divert your baby’s attention every time you see him/her sucking the thumb. Give them a stress ball if you think they are sucking their thumb when they are nervous. If the toddler has been sucking his/her thumb when bored, make the child draw, paint, or play with toys instead.

8. Be Patient

Remember, thumb sucking is a common habit in most kids. A majority of children give up sucking their thumb on their own with time. So, be a little patient and wait for them to stop it on their own.

While thumb sucking may seem soothing and calming to the baby in the initial stages, it also comes with its share of side effects. These side effects are usually quite gradual and occur in those children who suck their thumb vigorously and all too often.

What Are The Side Effects Of Thumb Sucking?

The side effects of thumb sucking are:

  • Jaw deformities as the child enters adulthood
  • Damage to the teeth alignment
  • Teeth may be pushed around, resulting in an overbite or underbite
  • Formation of a lisp due to problems with alignment of the jawbone
  • Alteration of the roof of the mouth (palate)
  • Bone deformities in the finger (3)
  • Spreading of infectious germs

Thumb sucking in babies and children is quite common and is considered a manifestation of their natural rooting and sucking reflexes. Babies may begin sucking their thumbs for self-soothing and a sense of comfort soon after they are born. While most babies drop this habit by the time they turn six months of age, you may need to wean your baby off thumb sucking if it continues into toddler years. The habit is not only unsightly and unhygienic but may also lead to oral structural deformities once the permanent teeth start showing up. Diversion techniques, patience, ‘chewellry’, praise and reward are some of the common practices to help children let go of a thumb sucking habit.

References

  1. Thumbsucking” American Academy of Pediatrics.
  2. Effects of oral habits’ duration on dental characteristics in the primary dentition.” Journal of the American Dental Association, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. DYSTROPHIC CALCINOSIS IN A CHILD WITH A THUMB SUCKING HABIT: CASE REPORT” Semantic Scholar.
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Dr. Jennifer Mercier

(ND, PhD)
Jennifer Mercier has been in the practice of women's health since 1999. Her practice started with Massage Therapy and Midwifery... more

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