Advice for When Babies Suck Their Fingers
Mothers have many concerns regarding certain behaviors in their children. One of the most common questions arises when babies suck their fingers. Generally, it’s a habit acquired while in the womb, so it’s perfectly normal in newborns and usually lasts a long time.
Most babies put a single finger in their mouth and suck it. Others prefer two or even parts of the fist. Some rub themselves with a blanket or cloth while they suck. This is all part of a baby’s beautiful ritual of natural relaxation. But for how long is this considered normal?
Why do babies suck their fingers?
By sucking fingers, pacifiers, or cloth, an appropriate contact is established between the baby and the world around him. This habit can last up to 2 or 3 years. If the child is nervous, insecure, or very spoiled, then it could last for much longer.
How long can I allow it?
It’s advisable to monitor this habit and not let it go on for too long, as it can have consequences on your infant’s health. Many children give up this practice by themselves. Others have a little more trouble and need help, while some change their finger for a pacifier.
In general, this habit is associated with the need to calm down in a bothersome situation or feeling. It could be said then, that it’s their way of relaxing.
If children suck their fingers for a long time, it increases the likelihood of defects or abnormalities showing up in the teeth and gums later on, as well as having problems in the jaw joint.
My baby sucks his finger. What are the consequences?
Infants who start sucking their fingers at a very young age often present many dental problems. Having the finger permanently in the mouth delays some teeth from coming out and causes deformities in them.
As a consequence, the intensity of the suction and the push of the tongue will probably bring the need for braces in the future.
When a baby puts pressure on the palate and pushes it upwards, it produces what’s called the ogival palate. This impulse steals the space needed by the nostrils to breathe properly and consequently causes oral breathing.
Additionally, the finger prevents the tongue from moving freely. This causes flat tongue syndrome, which can lead to speech difficulties.
Another problem is that the upper teeth move forward, especially the two in the center. This is known as open bite or malocclusion. To improve this deformity, it’s necessary to use special dental braces.
However, not all consequences are oral. This habit can also cause certain problems in other parts of the body, such as severe headaches and hearing pain.
How to help children stop sucking their fingers?
Considering all the consequences of this habit’s prolonged practice, it’s of the utmost importance that parents act in a timely manner. Stopping babies from sucking their fingers will always be a process that takes time, since it represents many satisfactory sensations for them.
If the infant places the finger in the mouth to fall asleep, you can choose to give your baby a soft cloth doll or a stuffed animal to help him or her relax through touch.
If the sucking only takes place when the baby is alone or bored, it’s best to offer alternative activities to make the child feel accompanied or encouraged. For example, a nice walk, reading time, personify a story, or play a sport.
“Having a finger permanently in the mouth delays teeth from coming out and causes deformities in them.”
On the other hand, putting gloves on your baby, band-aids, bandaging the finger or smearing unpleasant substances on him—such as spices or lemon—are old-fashioned alternatives that may have worked at a certain time.
However, at present, it’s better to work with positive reinforcement through rewards whenever your baby spends some time without sucking his finger. Thus, the child will feel incentivized to achieve the goal to get the prize.
With this motivation and demonstrations of pride after each period in which the child doesn’t put the finger in his mouth, you’ll have the key to successfully minimize the consequences of this innately adopted habit. Of course, you must also accompany this with lots of patience and determination.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Cerny, R. (1981). Thumb and finger sucking. Australian dental journal, 26(3), 167-171. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1834-7819.1981.tb03938.x
- Pearson, G. H. (1948). The psychology of finger-sucking, tongue-sucking, and other oral “habits”. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, 34(7), 589-598. https://www.ajodo.org/article/0002-9416(48)90157-2/pdf
- Larsson, E. (1988). Treatment of children with a prolonged dummy or finger-sucking habit. The European Journal of Orthodontics, 10(1), 244-248. https://academic.oup.com/ejo/article-abstract/10/1/244/457977
- Levy, D. M. (1928). Fingersucking and accessory movements in early infancy: An etiologic study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 84(6), 881-918. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/ajp.84.6.881
- Lewis, S. J. (1937). The effect of thumb and finger sucking on the primary teeth and dental arches. Child Development, 8(1), 93-98. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1125827