Babies are born with an innate urge to suck. Connected to the rooting reflex that causes them to seek a nipple, thumb and finger sucking are a common and natural part of a child’s development. In fact, some babies start sucking their thumb in the womb.
Between 2 and 4 months, your baby may start bringing their hands intentionally to their mouth. In addition to being comforting, this is an exciting step in their physical and cognitive development. Your baby’s movements are becoming more intentional as cognitive function shifts from low in their more primitive brainstem to higher in the more evolved cortex of their brain.
Are there benefits to thumb sucking?
In addition to calming your baby, thumb sucking may prevent allergies and even help speech development, research and experts suggest.
- A 2016 study testing the hygiene hypothesis found that children who suck their thumbs or bite their nails are 33 percent less likely to develop common allergies like pollen, cats, and dust mites. Early exposure to bacteria and germs is essential to building a strong immune system.
- Sucking on their thumb or fingers allows your baby to map their mouth and establishes building blocks for infant language development and self-feeding.
- Sucking helps babies feel secure and works to calm their central nervous system. Thumb sucking can help your baby cope when they’re overstimulated and may eventually help soothe them to sleep.
- Unlike a pacifier, your baby’s thumb is consistently available and can’t be dropped on the floor or left behind.
Should I try to stop my baby from thumb sucking?
The short answer is no. Parents sometimes worry about the long-term effects of thumb sucking. But as your baby gets older, they’ll likely find other ways to self-soothe or limit their thumb sucking to times when they’re very tired or overstimulated, experts say.
Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own between the ages of 2 and 4, according to the American Dental Association. As long as it doesn’t go on too long and your baby doesn’t suck too vigorously, thumb sucking shouldn’t have any lasting implications❤️
Learn more about the research
Antony, T. L., Priya, V. V., & Gayathri, R. (2019). Awareness on thumbsucking and pacifier and its effect on child’s teeth. Drug Invention Today, 12(7), 1368-1371.
Lynch SJ, Sears MR, Hancox RJ. (2016). Thumb-Sucking, Nail-Biting, and Atopic Sensitization, Asthma, and Hay Fever. Pediatrics. 138(2).
Shetty, R. M., Shetty, M., Shetty, N. S., & Deoghare, A. (2015). Three-alarm system: revisited to treat thumb-sucking habit. International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, 8(1), 82-86.
Thumbs, Fingers, and Pacifiers. Pediatric Patient Education 2021.