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Question of the day: Is Finger Sucking Bad for Baby?

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm

EmailReader Charlotte S. writes today:

Dear Dr. Brown and Denise:

What are your thougths on finger sucking?  My 6.5 month-old son has been breastfeed since birth and continues to be breastfed in addtion to starting solids at 5.5 months.  I introduced a bottle when I went back to work when he was 9 weeks.  He's never had a pacifier.

However, at at 3 months of age, he began sucking the middle and ring fingers of his right hand.  My husband feels this is wrong.  I counter that children have a strong desire to suck up to 2 years of age; he does it mainly to soothe himself to sleep and sometimes during his sleep.  My husband asks "what's the difference between finger sucking and a pacifier?"

I am of the understanding that finger sucking is OK before the permanent teeth arrive (at 5-7 years of age) and that one can reason with a child before that to stop sucking his fingers.  My husband feels that it's easier to break a 4 month habit than a 4 year habit, but I don't think our son's finger sucking will last that long.

You talk a lot about a pacifier and to get rid of it by 4 months in Baby 411 but don't say much on the subject of finger sucking.  Please advise.

Hi Charlotte,

Hope you are finding Baby 411 helpful. We do actually discuss thumbsucking in the discipline chapter--which is essentially the same issue you are dealing with, only different fingers!

It's okay for a baby/child to suck their thumb/fingers. Sucking is very soothing, and infants have very few reliable strategies to soothe themselves when they are very young. Like the pacifier, after 4-6 months of age, babies begin to have many other ways to console themselves or be consoled by others--distraction, music, changing the scenery, comfort objects (blanket, doll, etc)--are just a few suggestions. And toddlers really do not need to suck to find comfort at all.
 
While you can take away the pacifier, you can't take away a digit. And you are correct that neither will cause permanent tooth damage unless these behaviors continue when the permanent teeth start to erupt (age 5-7)--although some data suggests these kids are more prone to crossbites if they continue into toddlerhood. No harm done right now with a 6 month old.

If your child is still sucking his fingers as a toddler, I would suggest discouraging the behavior in public to limit the risk of crossbite and limit germs going into his mouth! You can tell him it;s okay to do it in his room (which he may do to settle down and sleep).

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