The Need-to-Know on Baby Soothers

beautiful newborn baby girl is laying down sucking her thumbThey are habits that can soothe your baby, but also cause concern among parents: sucking on a thumb or a pacifier. You may have questions: Can it harm your infant? When should they stop?

For babies, sucking is one of their natural reflexes, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), which adds that thumb or finger sucking may start while in the womb. They can feel happy, relaxed and secure when sucking on their thumb or on a pacifier, and it might even help them sleep.

The ADA notes that “prolonged thumb sucking” might affect the normal growth of your child’s mouth and her teeth’s alignment, as well as change the roof of her mouth. Also, vigorous thumb sucking is more likely to cause problems than passive thumb sucking when your baby just rests her thumb in her mouth.

A pacifier can have a similar impact on teeth as thumb and finger sucking, but it’s usually easier to break a pacifier habit, according to the ADA. WebMD notes that a pacifier could raise the risk of getting an ear infection, while thumb sucking could bring germs into your infant’s mouth.

Little baby with blue soother laysMake sure you use a clean pacifier, and never dip it in honey, sugar or any sweetener before giving it to your baby. At 12 months, use a pacifier for bedtime and discontinue by 18 months to avoid social attachment. The ADA says most kids will stop thumb sucking on their own between ages two and four. Children who are still thumb sucking after age four may develop problems with their teeth.

Talk with your child’s doctor if you have additional questions or concerns about thumb sucking or pacifier use.