Main Line Pediatrics

Common Concerns


Pacifiers and Thumbsucking

Your child's need to suck his thumb or use a pacifier comes from a normal reflex which is present at birth and is essential for your baby's survival. These behavioral forms of sucking are not indicative of emotional problems in your child.

Sucking at times other than at feedings occurs in about 80 percent of children. Most children need to suck to comfort or quiet themselves. The majority of babies discontinue this extra sucking around one year of age.

Most parents have their own preference as to which mode of extra sucking they prefer to see in their child - the thumb or the pacifier.

Pacifiers should be introduced in the first month of life, if this is your preference. Only use pacifiers made from one piece of rubber, avoiding ones that come apart. Parents should refrain from coating the pacifier with sugary sweeteners that can cause cavities. Never tie the pacifier to a string, which is then tied around your child's neck; this could potentially cause strangulation. Pacifiers can be taken away at 12 months. New studies suggest that babies who use a pacifier at night for the first twelve months of life have a lower incidence of SIDS.

Discontinuation of thumbsucking is dependent upon the age of the child. Under 4-5 years of age, the behavior should be considered normal and mostly should be ignored. If it occurs because of boredom, engage your child in some activity to help cure the problem. After the age of 5 years, your child can be taught to stop thumbsucking through a series of behavior modification techniques. If the behavior persists beyond ages 6-7 years, bring it to the attention of your child's dentist, who will have other ideas or may recommend the use of an appliance placed in the mouth to discourage sucking.

There are several problems with persistent sucking of any kind. The major problem is the production of an overbite if the habit persists beyond the time of permanent tooth eruption. Other problems include finger infections, finger blisters, and excess swallowed air.