Saturday, January 16, 2010

To suck or not to suck?

Miriam is a great sleeper. She’s recently taken to sitting up and rather enjoys being propped up in the corner of the couch where she can sit up and watch what’s going on. She finds it thrilling. Leave her there too long, though, and her head starts to droop a little and then her breathing gets deeper and deeper until her whole body is bobbing up and down with each breath and she rocks herself to sleep.


I think it’s wonderful that Miriam can put herself to sleep, especially when it’s eleven o’clock at night and I can still hear Rachel kicking around in her bed. *sigh*

Last night Miriam discovered another way to lull herself to sleep. As if she knew it was something forbidden, something addictive, something to hide, we found her with both hands covering her face.


The *suck, suck, suck* sound kind of gave her away, though. We peeled back one of those little hands and found this:


Miriam is a baby who loves to suck. She sucks on fingers, she sucks on soothers, she sucks on blankets and shoulders and hair and fists. She sucks on anything that gets within lunging range of her mouth. She always has her hands up in her face—even in the womb we couldn’t get a good shot of her face in any ultrasound pictures because her hands were always in the way—so we knew it was only a matter of time before she found her thumb.

And she loves it.


Since she still isn’t quite sure how to control her flailing limbs, she kind of guides one hand to her mouth with the other hand and then holds onto it, tightly, so that her thumb doesn’t accidentally fly out of her mouth and poke her in the eye or anything like that (as her hands are prone to do). 

Last night I thought that it was, perhaps, a fluke—perhaps she accidentally found it and was just sucking on it because it happened to be in her mouth—but she found it again this morning and looked pretty pleased with herself for doing so.


Right now it’s kind of cute and, truthfully, helpful. But how will I feel about this thumb-sucking thing in two years? Three years? Four? Five? Six?

How long will she suck if we let her continue? Should we let her continue? Why would I want to keep her from soothing herself when having a baby who soothes itself is such a wonderful blessing? Why is parenting so hard? Why don’t these things come with manuals?!


  1. Both of my girls suck their thumbs, and it is a wonderful, wonderful habit. Get Miriam hooked on a blanket, too, and you will have an instant way to keep her quiet in church, on airplanes, in the car, at the doctor's office, you name it. Don't worry about when to stop; I was an avid thumb sucker and my parents bribed me out of it when I was about four. We brought up the conversation about cessation with Kathleen the other day and she seemed okay with the idea and wanted to start right then, but we told her she didn't have to stop until AFTER the plane ride to Cairo. We're going to need that habit for the return trip!

  2. I think now during infant years it's okay because they suck their fingers at some point during the first year. It's natural for babies to put their hands in their mouths and it's comforting. A mouthful of fingers is pleasurable for them. As long as it ceases by age 5, it will not cause any damage to the alignment of permanent teeth. Any distortion occurring before then returns to normal when the habit has stopped. Most kids stop sucking their thumbs by age 4 to 6. 80% give it up by age 5 and 95% give it up by age 6 on their own. Those who use it as comfort or to help them fall asleep use the habit longer than babies using it for oral gratification. One suggestion is to see if maybe she is sucking her thumb to compensate for suckling she isn't getting at the breast. I doubt that is it but you never know. Or when she is awake, distract her hands with something during daily activities like toys, patty-cake, this little piggy, or so big; or by holding her hands and letting her stand if she likes that.

    I'm not telling you how to be a parent, I have just been reading What to Expect books hoping to be expecting soon and that's where I found those suggestions and thought I would share. Let me know what you think.

  3. Gareth is a thumb-sucker and, honestly, I'd rather deal with that than a pacifier. But I did know a kid growing up who couldn't kick the thumb habit - pretty sure he was still sucking it in middle school. What encourages me with Gareth is that he's got a favorite blanket and thumb-sucking and the blanket go together. Since the blanket now stays in his bed all day, it means he's only sucking his thumb at nap-time and bedtime.

    He did totally stop for a few days a little bit ago because his thumb was dry and peeling and, as he said, "yucky". My telling him it was from sucking on it made him stop. But then he stopped wanting to take a nap - unless I gave him permission to suck his thumb! Right now, him getting a nap is more important to me than him not sucking his thumb. My hope is that by the time we force him to get rid of the blanket he'll be able to go to sleep without sucking his thumb as well.

    So, I wouldn't worry about it. She'll most likely eventually minimize and grow out of it on her own, and in the meantime it's wonderful that she can soothe herself.

  4. I totally agree with your two commenters: I had two thumb suckers, Abbi and Josie. With Abbi everyone (grandma, doctors, nurses) said "You've got to stop her from sucking her thumb!" so I made her comnpletely miserable, putting a great big mitten over her hand when she went to bed so she couldn't suck. Poor kid. I didn't know better--I was just doing what all the people who I thought knew better than I did said to do. When the same tendency appeared in Josie, i just let her suck. If you look at pictures of Josie between two months and ten months or so, invariably her hand is up there covering her face. Dr. Ewert said not to worry about it; she would stop when she was ready, and if she wasn't going to kindergarten yet, it wasn't a problem. I think that forcing Abbi to stop hurt her feelings of self control, and that allowing Josie to be her own boss about her thumb was a much better way to handle it. I feel really bad, actually, about being a thumb gestapo for Abbi.

  5. Cool!! Erin and I were posting at the same time!! There were only two comments there, and then when I posted mine, Erin's was there, too! I agree with Erin, too, just for the record.

  6. Being a parent is full of so many hard choices. Self soothing is nice to be sure. On the other hand I think thumb and binkie sucking past a year is gross. I'd like to point out I'm not hating here. I sucked my finger until I was 11 and that is super gross. My opinion is if you are going to be relaxed about it and let her stop on her own time then there is nothing to worry about. If it is going to be something that bothers you when she is three pull the plug now...literally. No reason to add in a control issue during the threes. Shesh that is my least favorite age. Anyway I knew it would be an issue for me if the kids didn't quit early on...let's just say I have left over finger sucking issues, so if I saw their thumb in their mouth and they were sleeping I'd slip it out. If they were awake I'd distract by playing peekaboo or patty cake. So far no thumb suckers. Sadie was the most persistent be even she only sucked for a few weeks. Like I said though I think it just comes down more to how you will feel about it later down the road if they don't quite easily. She's growing so fast. It is amazing!

  7. Amen. I keep secretly wishing that Thomas would stop screaming and find his thumb. And then I secretly wish he didn't have thumbs because once he finds them I can't really take them away from him.