Can my baby stop sucking her thumb without using a pacifier?

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP


I am breastfeeding my 2-month-old. She is refusing to take a pacifier but wants to suck on her thumb instead. I was told by the La Leche group not to give her a pacifier because it would interfere with her latching on to my breast. Now I feel like it is backfiring on me because she only wants to suck on her thumb. (This was a habit of mine as a child; is it hereditary?) What can I do?


My local new-baby nursery is decorated with signs that say, "No pacifiers." Parents and professionals alike want breastfeeding to succeed. Many studies conducted over the past decade have found an association between pacifier use and early weaning, but these studies have not shown whether pacifier use causes early weaning or vice versa.

An excellent randomized, controlled clinical trial, published in the July 18, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that pacifier use does not cause early weaning, it merely becomes more common among babies who are already weaning. This fits with what I have observed in working with families: as long as pacifiers are not used as substitutes for meeting babies' needs, they can be offered to soothe fussy young babies without interfering with nursing. Different babies are calmed in different ways. Learning what works best for your baby is part of the adventure of having a newborn.

Some babies are comforted primarily by sucking and this can run in families. Those who do choose to suck the thumb usually stop by the time they are a year old. As you may know, some continue for years. The number one thing that these kids have in common is early battles over thumb sucking. Pulling out the thumb doesn't speed up the stopping -- just the opposite. The best way to get kids to stop is to distract their hands with something else, without even letting them know that you are trying to get them to stop.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

American Baby


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