Babies and the Sucking Instinct

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If there’s one thing that we truly know about babies it is that they like to suck. A baby comforting herself via sucking on her thumb is so common as to be cliché. From the beginning of time, babies have been sucking their thumbs as a means of comfort. It’s normal and natural for babies to do this, and it’s not unusual by any means.

While the thumb has been around for a long time, the pacifier is a relatively new occurrence. Babies can also use a pacifier to help themselves calm down. The modern idea of the pacifier has been around for more than a century, appearing in the early 1900s. Before that, parents would use any number of materials for baby to suck on, including things like cloth and even silver.

For many babies, sucking is comforting. A baby’s instinct is to suckle when he’s hungry, of course, but also when he is tired or when he is stressed. Most infants will fall asleep suckling. When babies get older, sucking can still help to soothe. You can’t and shouldn’t feed a baby every time he tries to suckle, because sometimes he’s not hungry but rather just needs comfort.

Most of the time sucking on a thumb or a pacifier won’t cause any permanent damage. Most dentists believe that there’s no danger to the teeth unless your child is still sucking by the age of four years old or so. If that’s the case, you might think about doing something to break the sucking habit.

Experts aren’t always in agreement about whether sucking a thumb or sucking a pacifier is better for your baby. Chances are pretty good your baby prefers one or the other anyways. While there is some evidence to suggest that thumb suckers may maintain the habit longer than babies that use pacifiers, it isn’t set in stone. There is also some research that suggests a pacifier at nap time may reduce the risk of SIDS, although more research in that area is needed.

If you’re concerned about your baby’s sucking habits, talk to your pediatrician. She may be able to offer some helpful advice.

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This entry was posted in About Your Baby.


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