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How To Gently Stop Your Baby From Finger Sucking

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In every child’s development, there are milestones that fill a parent’s heart with pride and, sometimes, a hint of worry. Finger sucking is a habit nestled firmly in the latter category, a common behavior that begins as a source of comfort but can potentially lead to complications if not addressed in a timely fashion. Understanding how to gently stop your baby from finger sucking can offer insights into the best approaches for helping them break free from this habit.

Why Babies Put Their Fingers in Their Mouths

There are a variety of reasons infants suck their thumbs and fingers, but the main reason is: they’re infants! Babies are born with an instinct to root around for the breast and suck for nutrition. This sucking reflex is essential to their survival, growth, and development.

Some babies start sucking their thumbs or fingers in the womb, as ultrasound images have revealed. It turns out that in addition to the necessity of sucking for feeding, sucking on the thumb or fingers creates a pleasurable sensation, affecting neurotransmitters in the pleasure centers of the brain. That’s one reason the habit is hard for many children to break.

Reasons for thumb and finger sucking and what the act may be communicating are multifaceted and may relate to the following:

  • Instinctive sucking: The aforementioned instinct is normal in infants, and it doesn’t become a problem until the child reaches toddlerhood when permanent teeth begin to emerge, or social stigma could develop. It’s a natural reflex that helps babies soothe themselves.
  • Discovery and exploration: Once babies discover their hands, they’re interested in exploring them and what they can do. They learn about their world by putting things in their mouths. Parents should, of course, always be alert to choking hazards, but fingers and thumbs are attached to the baby’s body, so the risk is minimal.
  • Boredom: If a baby wants entertainment and there’s nothing stimulating going on in their environment, sucking on thumbs or fingers is a pleasurable way to pass the time.
  • Self-soothing: Finger and thumb sucking has neurological effects that produce a calming, pleasurable sensation in parts of the brain that govern mood, sleep, appetite, pain regulation, and the happy expectation of a reward. Sucking on fingers can calm a baby and offer a sense of security.
  • Hunger: Sometimes, finger sucking is simply a signal that a baby is hungry. If it’s been too long since a feeding or the baby didn’t eat enough last time, thumb and finger sucking could indicate the need for a meal or a snack.
  • Teething: Baby teeth start coming in around 3 to 7 months of age. When a teething ring, toy, or biscuit aren’t available, the thumb and fingers are the next best things that help relieve the discomfort of teething.

Why It’s Important To Break the Habit

Finger sucking might seem harmless at first glance, but prolonged sucking can create conditions that require more extensive intervention as kids begin attending school. Issues may include:

  • Dental deformation: Thumb and finger sucking can interfere with the normal development of the mouth and jaw, which cases may require surgery to correct in rare. The habit can result in malocclusion, where the teeth don’t line up properly; an open bite, where front teeth on the upper and lower sides don’t meet when the mouth is closed; or a high, narrow palate that can interfere with speech and breathing, causing or contributing to sleep apnea.
  • Speech impediments: Prolonged finger and thumb sucking can delay speech development or cause articulation problems. Children may develop a lisp or have difficulty forming certain sounds because of stunted tongue muscle development or movement.
  • Tongue thrust or problems swallowing: Thumb and finger sucking promote an effect called “tongue thrust” where the tongue pushes forward against the teeth. Tongue thrust is a necessary skill for breast feeding, as it helps pull milk from the breast, and it helps babies resist choking if their mouth gets too full. But if it persists, it can cause lisping or misalignment of the teeth.

When To Act

While most children naturally outgrow finger sucking by age 3, if the habit persists beyond that age, it’s time to take proactive steps toward breaking the cycle. Here’s how to gently stop finger sucking, balancing understanding with loving intervention.

  1. Substitute comfort objects: Offer a security blanket or a favorite stuffed animal to provide alternative comfort.
  2. Offer teething toys: For younger children, providing appropriate teething toys can redirect their need for relief, especially during teething stages.
  3. Give the child something to do with their hands: Engage them in activities that keep both hands busy and distract them from sucking, such as playing with non-toxic clay or working on a puzzle.
  4. Praise for resisting: Acknowledge your child’s efforts and achievements in working to overcome the habit. Offer praise when you notice your child is not sucking their fingers.
  5. Watch videos for kids about the consequences of thumb sucking: Educational content can help your child understand why it’s important to stop this habit. A quick search for videos for children about the consequences of thumb sucking will turn up several results that could be effective deterrents.
  6. Use a finger sucking prevention device: One of the most effective options for parents looking for help in how to stop finger sucking is using a device specially designed to discourage the habit. Consider using specialized tools like the AeroFinger from TGuard, which is designed to gently discourage finger sucking by covering the fingers and making sucking less satisfying.
  7. Dental device: In some cases, a dentist might recommend a device that makes finger sucking difficult or impossible as a last resort.

In Summary

Breaking the finger-sucking habit requires patience, understanding, and the right approach. Each child’s path to stopping will be unique. Starting this process early and reinforcing positive behavior can ensure the habit doesn’t turn into a problem.

By addressing finger sucking proactively, you’re paving the way for healthier dental development and instilling habits that contribute to your child’s overall well-being. It’s especially important to wean your child off the habit before they enter their school years. This protects them from teasing and bullying that can be a side effect of persisting in the thumb or finger sucking habit. The goal isn’t just to stop a habit but to do so in a way that supports your child’s growth and self-confidence.

How To Gently Stop Your Baby From Finger Sucking