Pacifier or thumb?

Babies have a strong natural sucking reflex that they are born with. Some babies have been known to suck their thumbs in their mothers womb. The sucking action tends to soothe and comfort them, especially before a feed is due. It is a personal choice whether or not you decide to introduce your baby to a pacifier. Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of both thumb sucking and pacifiers.

A baby sucking its thumb in the womb.
A baby sucking its thumb in the womb.

Pacifier

Advantages:

  • It can be used to distract a baby when having vaccinations, blood tests or other procedures which can cause pain.
  • Helps soothe a baby when crying, between feeds, travelling etc
  • If your baby has trouble sleeping, sometimes a pacifier can help to settle them.
  • Recent research by the A.A.P. (American Association of Pediatrics) has found that babies who sleep with a pacifier have a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (S.I.D.S.). This may be due to the fact that because of the sucking action, the airway is kept open. Another theory is that the baby sleeps lighter because they are sucking and are less likely to roll onto their stomachs.
  • They can be easily sterilised in a sterilising unit or put in a dishwasher.
  • They come in various sizes, and can be used as early as newborn.
  • Easily disposed of - when you decide that it is no longer required, it can be thrown away.

Disadvantages

  • Your baby could become dependent on the pacifier and may refuse to sleep without one.
  • A baby may wake from sleep and cry during the night if the pacifier falls out of his/her mouth.
  • Normal use of a pacifier during the first few years causes no problems, but if used for a prolonged period of time, could lead to dental problems. It can cause the child's upper front teeth to be pushed outwards or grow in squint.
  • Research has shown that babies who use pacifiers run a greater risk of having middle ear infections. This is thought to be because bacteria from the back of the mouth travels up the Eustachian Tube into the middle ear, caused by the constant sucking action.
  • Some researchers say that babies who have pacifiers from an early age could breastfeed for less duration and are likely to have more problems breastfeeding than babies who do not use a pacifier.

Top tips:

If your baby is not interested in a pacifier, don't force, wait and try again a few hours later. It may be that he/she just has to get used to the silicon teat.

Always make sure that the pacifier is clean, sterilised regularly and kept in its plastic case when not in use.

It should never be dipped in anything sweet before putting into the baby's mouth, as this can lead to tooth decay, even if your baby has no teeth yet.

Never put the pacifier in your own mouth to "clean" it before putting it in your baby's mouth. I see this happen quite regularly and it really turns my stomach. It is simply just transferring the germs from your mouth into that of your child's. With the average adult having up to 1,000 different types of bacteria in their mouth, this is never a good idea!

Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking is a natural instinct and is very common amongst babies and small children. Most children stop sucking their thumb between the ages of 2 and 4 by themselves.

Advantages:

  • Babies can calm and soothe themselves.
  • Therapeutic for babies and they generally can get themselves off to sleep.
  • Thumb sucking babies/children tend not to put other items in their mouths to "explore" them.
  • Most children who do suck their thumb, tend to stop this at toddler stage when they are more mobile and active.

Disadvantages:

  • Prolonged thumb sucking after the age of 4, can lead to dental problems as teeth are pushed out during the sucking action. It can lead to the front top teeth growing in out of alignment.
  • In some cases, it can lead to speech problems as the child tends to push their tongue forward when talking.
  • It can become a bad habit if it continues past the toddler stage and is more difficult to wean a child off the thumb than the pacifier.

Top tips:

Try to ensure that you regularly clean your baby/child's hands to reduce the risk of unwanted germs and bacteria entering their mouths.

Source

Some babies never suck their thumbs or need a pacifier. Both my daughters as babies had pacifiers and were weaned off them at the age of two. They had no dental or speech problems and it wasn't really a big deal getting them to come off them. Your baby may make the decision for you and be a thumb sucker! There is no right or wrong and as long as there is not prolonged use of either of the methods, there should be no problems at all.

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Comments 14 comments

New 2011 Mom profile image

New 2011 Mom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

In the hospital they gave her a pacifier to use right after I had her. It really is a life saver at times, and amazingly enough she doesn't use it all the time. She's starting to use her thumb now as well, so I have the best of both worlds at the moment. I know when I was younger when i would suck my thumb I ended up with brittle finger nails at one point.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois

My first son used a pacifier sometimes at naps and sometimes when falling asleep at night. I really did my best to avoid giving it to him during the day because I always could not stand seeing young kids talking with pacifiers in their mouths. Not to mention it just always seemed dirty to me. I took it away around 18 months and that was the end of the pacifier.

My daughter, on the other hand, was a thumb sucker from the start. As she got older I did my best to discourage her from sucking it for no reason, and she mostly seemed to suck her thumb when she was tired. She quit sucking it fairly young since she got a blister on her thumb from a door shutting on it, and that basically stopped her habit.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great information for all new parents! The idea of "cleaning" a pacifier with your mouth turns my stomach, too.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ New 2011 Mom - Hi. Pacifiers certainly are a lifesaver at times. Both my daughters had them. To get them off the pacifier, when they were two I told them to post them to Santa and he would give them an extra present. I actually put them in the post box with a tag addressed to Santa. I wonder what the postman must have thought when he emptied the mailbox! Thank you for reading.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ Ktrapp - Both my daughters didn't seem to miss their pacifiers once they were gone. Thumb sucking is a bit harder to stop, but they seem to grow out of it eventually. My nephew used to suck his index finger as a toddler, which was a bit strange! Thanks for stopping by.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ randomcreative - Thanks for your comment. I can't believe the number of parents I see "cleaning" their baby's pacifier with their mouth, it really does make me cringe. Thanks for stopping by.


shaddox21 profile image

shaddox21 5 years ago

The hospital gave both my girls a pacifier when they were born. I let them use it for awhile for the transition between the hospital and home to help keep them comfortable. Shortly after getting home and settling into a routine, i took the pacifier and hid it. I would only break it out as a last resort and after a month or so neither of my girls needed it. Surprisingly neither child sucked her thumb either. Every child is different though and what works for some will not work for others.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ shaddox21 - I totally agree, babies are all different. In most cases, they kinda come off the pacifier when the time is right for them. My girls had them occasionally up until the age of two, but as they became more and more active they didn't need it until bed time. Thanks for sharing your experience.


New 2011 Mom profile image

New 2011 Mom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

@jacqui2011 those letters to Santa get delivered to North Pole in Alaska. People there read through many of the letters, and save them or sometimes post them in their Santa store they have, and they sometimes even send gifts to children. I found out about this after watching the Travel Channel


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ New 2011 Mom - That's amazing, I had no idea that happened. It's great really. I wonder how many old pacifiers they receive! Lol.


metalmomma27 profile image

metalmomma27 5 years ago from Hornell,New York

I gave all my children a pacifier and they all were weaned off of it by age 2; well execpt my son i weaned him at 6mths. He didnt seem to mind that he didnt have one but when I got him a new one he refused to have anything to do with it so I threw it away. I just weaned my one year old daughter Kaylyn off of her's. I agree that it is okay to give your babies a pacifier. But all babies are different some take a pacifier and some do not.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ metalmomma27 - I agree totally with you. Some babies don't need anything - thumb or pacifier. Both my girls came off the pacifier around the age of 2. My niece used to make me laugh - as a toddler she had her pacifier in the side of her mouth and would make a squeaking sound with her teeth on the silicon. She did it all day long and in the end her mum took it from her when she was sleeping and told her that a bird had flown in and taken it for her baby! She never asked for another one after that.


consentino 4 years ago from GLENDALE

I go with the pacifier all the way. Our daughter sucked on two of her fingers and it was so hard to break her of it. Our son had a pacifier and one day we took it to the garbage and threw it away. (Of course I hid two just in case)

www.petsareagift.com


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 4 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

@ consentino - I found it so much easier to "lose" the pacifier. Just like you, I had a couple more hidden for emergencies, but luckily didn't need them. My partners neice sucked her thumb on the quiet until she was 11 or 12. It's such a hard habit to break. Thanks for your comment.

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