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Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers

I have to be honest, my son’s thumb sucking never really bothered me. In fact, it bothered my husband and my family much more than it did me. I worked under the assumption that he would do one of two things: 1.) grow out of it, or 2.) based on my husband’s and my teeth, he was destined for braces any way.

Recently, someone asked me if there is a way to prevent little ones from sucking their thumb, or if there is a way to prevent them from starting the habit altogether? While I am sure there are ways to do it, such as sleepers that cover their hands, the sucking reflex is an important one for babies. And, while mittens or sleepers that cover their hands may prevent them from getting to their thumb, it is likely not going to keep them from sucking on something.

My son started sleep training when he was four months old, at which time we took his pacifier away. However, he quickly found his thumb, and the rest, as they say, was history. Personally, I preferred thumb sucking as opposed to a pacifier because I knew my son could never lose his thumb! But on the flip side, you can always take away a pacifier, but you can’t take away your child’s thumb.

Around the age of two we took our son to the dentist and were encouraged to dissuade thumb sucking outside periods of sleep. Admittedly, we were not 100% consistent with our efforts and figured he would stop when he was ready to stop. And while the thumb sucking did lesson, it still occurred outside periods of sleep.

At the beginning of this year, my father-in-law got sick and was in the hospital. Because our son sucks his thumb and we were in the midst of flu season, we were hypervigilant about making sure he wasn’t sucking his thumb while at the hospital and that he was washing his hands and/or using hand sanitizer. He, on his own, made the decision to stop sucking his thumb that weekend. Perhaps he thought he wouldn’t have to wash his hands quite as often, but regardless, we were happy with his choice.

Just before his nap that Sunday, he asked us to put a band aid on his thumb. Typically, I would not recommend initially stopping a pacifier or thumb sucking at naptime, as the drive to sleep is not as high as it is at night. However, in my son’s case, I didn’t want to discourage his progress.

Over the next month we saw a combination of stalling at bedtime, him getting out of bed, waking early, and sometimes taking over an hour to fall asleep. All of those things were to be expected though, and this is why:

  • His way of self-soothing was gone. He had to take the time to adjust and relearn how to put himself to sleep without using this thumb. (The same as any other point of change in sleep training.)

  • He was overtired. He was falling asleep later because of not sucking his thumb, and it was causing him to wake up earlier

Each sequential week, we saw a marked difference in how long it took him to fall asleep until we were right back in the fifteen-minute range. Glory be! I truly believe the reason he did so well was because it was HIS idea to stop sucking his thumb and not something we forced upon him. We made sure to praise him for his efforts and that he knew how proud of him we were. Remember, children thrive on positive and negative interactions!

It has been almost three months and we have not looked back since that Sunday when he stopped sucking his thumb. He still wears a band-aid on his thumb at night because he wants to. Did getting him to stop cause some bumps in the road? Yes! Were we consistent and able to stay on track? Yes!

Thumb sucking and pacifiers shouldn’t result in anxiety for your or your child in the quest for good sleep. For some great tips, check out this post I wrote last summer that discusses how to prevent the pacifier from impacting your child’s sleep.

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