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The great debate—thumb or pacifier?
Q: My child is 4-months-old and I refused to give her a dummy because she does not need it. But lately she has been sucking on her fist when she isn't hungry. My mother-in-law says she thinks it is best to give her a dummy so her teeth won't get crooked. I don't want her to use a dummy, nor do I want her to get in the habit of sucking on her fingers. What should I do?
A: Kadira, many parents are concerned about the dilemma: thumb vs. dummy. Your daughter is telling you something by her behaviour sucking on her fist—sucking is a completely normal need that infants have. Many infants even suck their thumbs before they’re born (you might have seen your baby doing that on an ultrasound during pregnancy). The sucking reflex is usually strongest in the baby’s first year of life. A strong sucking reflex helps your baby make sure she gets the nutrition she needs from the breast or bottle. Sucking provides your baby comfort and helps her calm herself, especially when falling asleep. She also explores her hands and objects by putting them in her mouth to see how they feel and taste. And, your baby might be cutting her first teeth and is using her fists to rub her sore gums.

Although you might not like the way dummys or thumbs look in your baby’s mouth, remember that it probably won’t be for too long. Many babies give up sucking their hands or dummys by 6-7 months of age. Thumb-sucking usually doesn’t cause any harm unless it continues beyond 6 years of age, when it can affect the shape of your child’s mouth or teeth. Of course, it’s important to wash your baby’s hands frequently to reduce the chance that germs on her hands get into her mouth. Similarly, a dummy is not usually harmful as long as you keep it clean, it’s made of one piece to prevent choking on detachable parts, and you never tie the dummy around your baby’s neck because she can strangle on it.

It’s up to you and your baby to decide which best meets your baby’s need to suck. The main advantage of the thumb is that your baby always has it available, day and night, when she needs it to calm herself . The main advantage of the dummy is that you can take it away later when you think she no longer needs it. But just remember that your baby is likely to stop sucking on her fist, thumb, fingers, or dummy within a few months after her sucking need lessens and she starts exploring more interesting things in her environment.