Baby Only Sleeps While Sucking Thumb?
You’ve probably heard the horror stories surrounding babies sucking their thumbs to fall asleep. Their permanent teeth will come in at varying angles, or they may suck their thumbs for the rest of their lives. Certainly, there is some truth to these stories, but is sucking his thumb to fall asleep something you really need to worry about?
The quick answer to this question is no and yes. Let’s begin by discussing why your baby has begun sucking his thumb to fall asleep and whether there are any benefits to it. If your baby won’t sleep, you should still try to break this habit.
Your Baby Sucks His Thumb to Fall Asleep: What Now?
First of all, don’t stress it too much. At this age, everything babies see makes its way to their mouths. It really is a matter of time before her thumb finds its safe haven right inside her pie hole.
Aside from sticking everything in their mouths, there are other reasons your baby sucks his thumb to fall asleep. The most common reason is that it comforts him. Suckling is one of the first natural urges your child has. Whether sucking on a bottle or breastfeeding from his momma, he is most at ease when suckling. It makes sense that thumb sucking would offer a similar sense of peace.
Other Reasons for Thumb Sucking
Since your baby is constantly exposed to new experiences and environments, sucking his thumb offers him a way to feel secure among all the newness. Along with comforting himself at bedtime or in unfamiliar environments, there are a few other reasons your baby has turned to thumb sucking. These include:
- He may be hungry.
- He may be sleepy.
- He may be nervous or unsure of his surroundings.
- He may be bored.
What Are the Benefits to Sucking the Thumb to Fall Asleep?
One clear benefit when your baby sucks her thumb to fall asleep is that your baby can self-soothe. Even better, she can do it anywhere and at any time without the need for a pacifier. Have you ever tried to find a pacifier in the dark at midnight or in the bottom of your purse while shopping? Not easy.
What Are Some Downfalls to Sucking the Thumb to Fall Asleep?
One downfall when your baby sucks his thumb to fall asleep is that it can be difficult for your child to stop. Unlike a pacifier, you cannot simply take your child’s thumb away. Later, we will discuss some great options to help with weaning. Because of these products, I only know two people who still suck their thumbs to fall asleep as adults.
Teeth and Speech
Another downfall when your baby sucks his thumb to fall asleep long term, it can mess up the alignment of your child’s permanent teeth and even the roof of his mouth. Not only can you expect to spend a small fortune on orthodontics, but some children will even develop a lisp from thumb sucking.
What Can You Do?
Like we’ve said, don’t worry too much. If your child is still very young, sucking his thumb will not hurt him. It is common for most children to stop sucking their thumbs on their own between ages 2 and 4.
Consider Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Style
Another thing to consider is that all thumb sucking is not created equal. This means that some children are more aggressive suckers while others passively hold their thumb in their mouths. An aggressive sucker will put more pressure on her mouth and teeth which can cause more damage. If you hear an audible popping sound when her thumb is removed from her mouth, you may have a an aggressive sucker, and weaning early might be necessary.
Talk to Your Dentist
Your dentist is a great resource to finding out if your child sucking her thumb to fall asleep is creating a problem for budding teeth. It is recommended that thumb sucking should cease before permanent teeth begin growing in. This helps to ensure that the habit will not affect your child’s smile. According to the American Dental Association, most children begin losing their baby teeth and start growing permanent teeth around age 5 or 6.
When It’s Time to Wean
Weaning can be especially difficult for a thumb sucker. When I asked my daughter why she sucked her thumb, she told me it felt good inside. How was I going to take away something that made her feel good inside? Thankfully, there are many products on the market to help out with weaning when your child doesn’t want to stop sucking her thumb to fall asleep.
If your child simply isn’t ready to quit thumb sucking, you might want to try a thumb sucking glove. These gloves are made of plastic and work by eliminating suction with tiny holes or vents. A child can still put his thumb in his mouth but will only be able to suck on air flowing through the vents. The idea is that lacking the suction, your child will find sucking his thumb less enjoyable and eventually quit. One caveat of this method is that older children may be able to remove the glove.
Another method to help you wean your thumb sucker is a special type of nail polish. You paint it onto your child’s thumb (or any offending digit) nail. When your child puts her thumb in her mouth, she is greeted with a disgusting taste. This method works quickly unless you have a dedicated sucker who will push through the taste.
If the above methods have worked, it may be a good idea to offer a replacement to his thumb sucking. Since he most likely uses his habit to comfort himself, it is helpful for you to notice what triggers his thumb sucking (bedtime, new places, etc.) You could offer a small stuffed animal or a small blanket during these times.
The End of an Era
In the end, thumb sucking and the cessation of it is simply another part of life. There is really no need to worry too much if your baby uses his thumb to comfort himself. As long as your child has stopped this habit before his permanent teeth begin growing in, you shouldn’t have to worry about astronomical orthodontic bills or impaired speech.