Thumb-sucking vs. pacifier use

Many parents of a thumb-sucking infant question whether they should substitute a pacifier for the thumb. So far, research does not indicate that one is preferable over the other. In addition, although parents can encourage a child to suck a pacifier rather than a thumb, they cannot control which the child will prefer.

Although the advantages and disadvantages of pacifier use and thumb-sucking aren't always entirely clear, there are some general issues for parents to consider.

The advantages of using a pacifier include being able to control when your child is allowed to use it, and being able to take the pacifier away when it is no longer appropriate. However, pacifiers may increase your child's risk of getting middle ear infections when they are used after 12 months of age.

An advantage of thumb-sucking is that it doesn't seem to interfere with breast-feeding, and children usually stop on their own between the ages of 3 to 5. However, if thumb-sucking develops into a habit past age 4, the child may develop dental problems. Also, it may be more difficult for a child to stop thumb-sucking than using a pacifier.

Talk to your health professional about how long you should wait before introducing a pacifier to a breast-feeding infant.

Keep in mind that there is no reason to encourage thumb-sucking or pacifier use in infants who do not indicate a need. The sucking instinct in these infants is satisfied through breast- or bottle-feeding.

Last Updated: September 12, 2008

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