THUMB SUCKING

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Last Updated : 4/5/2010
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Dr. Ira Shah
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Most babies suck their thumbs sometime or the other. Thumb sucking occurs when the baby is hungry, seeking comfort, or teething. Parents should remember that thumb sucking is a habit that disappears on its own gradually between 3-6 years of age.

One has often seen babies thumb-sucking when the baby is hungry. In fact is has been found that babies who feed more frequently do not suck their thumb as avidly as those who are fed at larger intervals. However, if the baby reaches for her thumb immediately after feeding it is a sign that you need to distract her from thumb sucking. It is important to control thumb-sucking right in the beginning to prevent it from becoming a habit.

Breastfed babies are less likely to suck their thumbs. This is because breastfeeding usually satisfies the baby's need to suck. Babies who are teething have a habit of chewing on their thumbs, fingers or hands. This probably helps them relieve the itching on their gums. Parents should try not to confuse this with a thumb-sucking habit.

PROBLEMS WITH THUMB-SUCKING: Thumb-sucking can displace the baby's upper front teeth forward and the lower teeth backwards. The extent to which the teeth are displaced will depend on how long the baby sucks her thumb and how she positions her thumb. This displacement of teeth affects the baby's milk teeth and not the permanent teeth if the habit is curtailed in time.

Q. How to treat thumb sucking?
Children usually outgrow thumb sucking between the ages of three and six. Persistent thumb sucking may indicate emotional deprivation in the child. Parents should try to identify what is bothering the child and then set it right if possible. Habitual thumb sucking can be treated with corrective measures such as restraints, elbow mitts, bad-tasting substances painted on the fingers, etc. However it may not always work. Distraction with a toy as soon as the child begins to suck the thumb may also work. Encourage the child to give up the habit without punishing or making the child too conscious of it.



Contributor Information and Disclosures Dr. Ira Shah
Consultant Pediatrician, B.J.Wadia Hospital for Children, Mumbai, India


First Created : 5/7/2001
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