You are currently viewing What Are Childhood Non-Nutritive Sucking Behaviors?

What Are Childhood Non-Nutritive Sucking Behaviors?

What are childhood non-nutritive sucking behaviors? Non-nutritive sucking behaviors begin in the womb since children are innately born with the natural urge, need, and desire to suck. Sucking is a survival reflex that occurs during the early oral development stage.

As one of the numerous reflexes that supports healthy feeding during infancy, this action is the initial coordinated muscular activity. Besides sucking during breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, babies will instinctively suck on whatever you place in their mouths.

Sucking’s distinctive power to calm and self-soothe babies, infants, and young children is sensational. As a matter of fact, it has a lot to do with stimulation. Nevertheless—depending on its form, intensity, and perpetuation—this relatively common behavior can become detrimental instead of beneficial to a child. Let’s examine the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive sucking (NNS) behavior and uncover how a developed habit could prove problematic.

Types of Sucking Defined: Nutritive vs. Non-Nutritive

Sucking has two identifiable forms: either nutritive or non-nutritive. Here’s what to know about these types of behaviors.

The Nutritive Form

The physiological nutritive form of sucking involves the effective removal and swallowing of nourishment—also known as milk—for continual growth and fruition. Traditional nutritive sucking through breastfeeding or bottle-feeding provides an array of essential nutrients to promote general health, strength, and wellness. This innate reflex in newborns and infants contributes to good orofacial structural development.

The Non-Nutritive Form

Conversely, the non-nutritive form of sucking does not supply any physical nourishment. Rather, it’s common for infants and young children to receive generally warm and calm feelings and a stimulated sense of security. This form involves a variety of habitual behaviors used to ease sleep, beat boredom, or self-soothe in stressful situations.

Remember, non-nutritive sucking is a completely routine activity during early childhood. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, non-nutritive sucking is a normal and expected part of early childhood development. Early research studies of its prevalence found that around 70 – 90 percent of children had a history of some form of a non-nutritive sucking habit.

You may wonder: what are these childhood non-nutritive sucking behaviors? Non-nutritive sucking habits include diverse self-comforting behaviors, such as the continual use of pacifier devices, baby blankets, or digit/thumb-sucking.

The Nature of Non-Nutritive Sucking

As the health-care professionals at Walsh Medical Media review, non-nutritive sucking is the earliest learned behavior of infants in response to sources of frustration or stress. Young children will seek comfort in a non-nutritive manner during times of need. Pacifier or thumb-sucking is not an inherently bad problem for most children.

However, prolongation can be a dilemma. The extensiveness of the habit and age of the child are key factors to consider. Sucking frequency typically decreases as age increases. If the behavior is still prevalent by the time a child reaches school age, it may require some intervention. This is especially true for prolonged thumb-sucking.

How Behavioral Actions Become Formed Habits

Pacifier sucking tends to decrease earlier than digit/thumb-sucking. As one of the most common oral habits for children worldwide, the non-nutritive sucking habit of thumb-sucking is likely to persist past the fourth year of life for some.

Why? The nature of thumb-sucking is simple: the behavior satisfies the urge and desire for touch and positive feelings. For this reason, pediatric health experts relate thumb-sucking to the first addiction-like experience for a child. After the behavior becomes a go-to or everyday habit, it’s difficult to break. Unless you replace the habit with healthier stress management strategies or alternative coping mechanisms, you may have a challenge on your hands.

At the core of the sucking sensation is comfort, which drives and enables the self-regulation of emotions. This is because various physiological changes occur when children suck their thumbs. Sucking produces chemicals in the brain called beta-endorphins that attach to opiate receptors, creating an unmistakable pleasurable association. As follows, frequent thumb-sucking is an actively learned behavior pattern.

How Prolonged Thumb-Sucking Affects Childhood Development

Some non-nutritive childhood sucking habits are passive and don’t lead to change. On the contrary, other habitual thumb-sucking behaviors can significantly influence growth and development. Ultimately, the effects depend on the child and their habits.

As a certified diplomate on the American Board of Dentistry concludes, sucking habits can affect facial/oral structures based on frequency, intensity, and duration, alongside individualized bone development and genetics. Specialists across the field agree that prolonged thumb-sucking effects come from three factors: intensity, frequency, and duration. Generally, keep in mind that “the longer, harder, and more frequent the habit, the greater the effects.” The aggressive nature and length of duration are the main indicators of the potential severity of an effect.

Prevalent Risks and Possible Changes

There’s a significant correlation between prolonged thumb-sucking and oral health/structural problems. Also, it can cause delayed social or speech development. However, pediatric education experts especially make careful note of the risk of dental malocclusion based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists.

The AAPD recommends ceasing non-nutritive sucking habits after age 3 or 4 to avoid improper bite relationships between the upper and lower teeth. Permanent teeth start coming in during the primary school years, and intercepting or preventing possible changes is the key to favorable long-term outcomes.

Management Strategies and Treatment Solutions

Pinpointing the root cause of prolonged childhood thumb-sucking—and proactively treating it—is critical for concerned parents. Fortunately, an array of habit-eliminating approaches are available. The right corrective measure can rectify conditions before complications arise from these non-nutritive sucking behaviors. Teaching good oral habits is essential for fostering general health and well-being.

Ergo, choose from diverse solutions to stop the cause of the behavior or prevent frequent sucking actions. Consider your child’s sucking habits closely to determine the best solution for your family. Some accessible routes you can take are either positive reinforcement, digital reminders, or reward systems.

Are you wondering how to break the thumb-sucking habit for good? Consider the AeroThumb treatment kit with an innovatively designed ergonomic thumb guard that’s safe, comfortable, and effective for use. When it comes to your child’s health and well-being, you can trust in TGuard’s years of leading experience and expertise. The parent testimonials—and dentist recommendations—of our devices speak strongly of their habit-breaking success.