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Is it normal for my baby to use thumb-sucking to fall asleep?

My baby sucks his thumb to fall asleep. Is this okay?
Submitted by American Baby Team

Thumb-sucking really gets a bad rap, when in fact it can be a useful way for babies to soothe themselves, much like a pacifier. What's more, thumb-sucking is very hard to control with a baby and isn't a problem at this age. Experts say that thumb-sucking only becomes an issue after a child turns 3, when it can start to interfere with the formation of his permanent teeth. By then your child will probably be much more comfortable putting himself to sleep.
 
But if the habit bothers you and you'd like your baby to stop, start by trying to figure out why he does it. If you notice that he sucks his thumb most often in the evening or near naptime, it could be a sign that's he's tired. If you notice him sucking regularly right after the babysitter arrives (when he knows you're going to leave) or at the doctor's office, he might be sucking to soothe himself during stressful times.
 
Once you've identified when your baby needs to suck his thumb, you can begin to find other ways to help him meet those needs, such as giving him a safe toy to suck on or chew, or playing soft, rhythmic music as he gets ready to go to sleep. This will help make the transition easier. It will also help if you start taking it away at times you believe he needs it less. For example, if you find him sucking absentmindedly while playing with a favorite toy or visiting with Grandma, go ahead and gently take his thumb out of his mouth and redirect his attention to a new activity.

Copyright 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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