Does your baby suck his/her fingers or thumb? Does your baby suck a pacifier the whole time? Sucking fingers/pacifiers is a life savior to all parents as it helps babies to stop crying. Do you wonder what’s right for your baby?
Before answering all of these questions, let’s first understand why babies need to suck their fingers or a pacifier. Sucking is a natural reflex in babies which is necessary for their survival. When eating, babies don’t chew like us adults but suck milk from the breast or bottle. Babies can also suck not to eat but to reassure themselves. Did you know that babies when they are still in our belly already do suck their fingers? When a baby suck his/her finger or pacifier the body produces high amounts of the famous love hormone called “oxytocin” which lets them feel safe and loved. Sucking is also a great pain killer for babies. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents to offer pacifiers to their babies to help them sleep from the age of 1 month till the age of 6 months. Why not use pacifiers before 1 month? During the first month, your baby is still learning to eat by “sucking” so it would be too early to offer him/her a pacifier.
Between the age of 6 months and 2 years, we parents should consider to stop giving pacifiers to our babies and help them stop sucking their fingers. According to the AAP, if the baby sucks the pacifier/fingers for long, he/she is at high risk of having teething problems (this can affect babies’ speech later on) and ear infections (known as “otitis”). Now the question is, how can we help our babies to stop sucking their fingers/pacifiers? Here are 5 tips that might help:
1. Choose the right time. Sucking provides to your baby emotional/psychological stability and comfort, so don’t start weaning your baby from sucking if you are teaching them potty training, if you are traveling, moving houses, he/she has just started going to the nursery, etc. Chose a time where everything in your baby’s surrounding is stable.
2. Smooth transition. As we said before, babies need to suck something to feel well, so we need to think of how to make our babies feel safe other than sucking. Try to establish a routine before your baby sleeps to make him/her feel safe like singing a song, reading a story or hugging them, etc.
3. Distract: During the day, when babies are awake don’t offer the pacifier a lot. If they start to cry distract them by playing with them or talking to them.
4. Progressive transition: We cannot as parents stop babies to suck fingers/pacifiers all of sudden. We need to plan this enough time in advance (1 month minimum). For example if the baby sucks the pacifier 6 hours/day, we should try to decrease 1-2 hours of daily sucking every week until the baby completely stops.
5. Discourage sucking smartly. If your baby sucks the pacifier, you can cut the silicone part of the pacifier progressively (every week a bit until the silicone part is too small for the baby to be able to suck it). If your baby is sucking his/her fingers, hold and play with their hands or let them wear gloves.
You are not a bad mum if you give/don’t give to your baby a pacifier. Some babies need it, others don’t and will throw it away. Listen to your baby’s needs and follow your heart.