Passing On Pacifiers (Thumbs Up!)

In a comedy skit presented at a RIE fundraiser several years ago, actor and RIE supporter William H. Macy (playing a baby clad in diapers and a bonnet) revealed a hidden pacifier and passed it surreptitiously to fellow RIE babies Jason Alexander and Paul McCrane. Out of eyeshot of their imaginary parents, they each took a deep “drag” on the pacifier. In a hushed whisper, Macy admonished Alexander, “Don’t bogart my passy!”

The best humor springs from truth, and the actors (with an assist from writer Ed Solomon) brought down the house poking fun at the RIE philosophy, parents and our foibles.

No question, pacifiers are a tremendous temptation — but not for babies — for us! As new parents, we desperately want to quiet our baby’s tears or help him sleep. Sucking is instinctual and calming, but this important need can be fulfilled by nature’s perfect pacifier — the thumb.

For parents, the thumb has obvious practical benefits: it doesn’t get lost, fall on the floor and get dirty, disappear in the night while the baby sleeps, and it is available anywhere and anytime. For the baby, the thumb has the most important benefits of all: it belongs to him, he discovers it, learns how to use it, controls it, and he decides when he needs it.

It is never easy to hear a baby cry, and we mistakenly believe it is our job to quiet a baby’s tears immediately, and by whatever means necessary. But babies communicate by crying, and sometimes they are expressing a particular need, like hunger. Other times they are expressing feelings. When we thrust a pacifier into a baby’s mouth, we are not only assuming a baby needs to suck, we are also disallowing further communication. Babies need their feelings heard, respected and calmly supported, just like we all do.

Infant expert Magda Gerber warned that calming a baby’s cries with a pacifier (or the breast when a baby is not hungry) gives the message, “Don’t do what comes naturally. Do what pleases me, your parent. I am in control of how you should feel and how you should show your feelings.”

Many parents worry that thumb sucking will become a habit, and yet we create the pacifier habit. We buy them when our child is just days old without giving him the opportunity to discover his thumb.  Perhaps we feel more in control of the pacifier habit because we can end the problem by throwing it away.   As Magda Gerber acknowledges in Dear Parent, Caring For Infants With Respect. “The issue is not a preference of pacifier vs. thumb. The real issue is, who is in control?”

The healthy pacifier is the one nature provides. It is easily accessed, always available, and can be used wherever and whenever the child chooses (even as some fetuses do — in the womb.) Life and parenting are so much simpler when we trust nature… and babies.
baby sucking thumb

 

 

 

74 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Amen to this! I couldn’t have said it better myself.May I have permission to print and make copies to share?

    1. Lisa,
      Thanks! Yes, please do! Just please credit me.

  2. I must admit I am guilty of this. My daughter used hers as in infant and it was tossed by 12 months, my middle son never took to one, the infant years were hard because he was not a self soother, but we got there in the end. My youngest is rather orally fixated and I am lazy enough to let it go on longer than it should, he is now 18 months and against all my better judgement still has it. This has been the kick in the backside I needed to purge them from the house. Thank you Janet.

    1. I was “guilty” of this with my first baby, too. I certainly understand the pull (sorry for pun) pacifiers have! My baby didn’t take to it, but we sure tried. It made me uncomfortable (as did a lot of things I was doing then) not just because it was unnatural, but because the use of the pacifier felt so haphazard. I was confused about when and how to use it and, especially, how to keep it in the baby’s mouth all night in between feedings! I learned after my early (extremely difficult) experiences as a new mom that I am a person who really needs clarity and an overall plan.

      The last thing I ever want to do here is cause guilt for parents. In fact my motto is NO GUILT EVER, just learning and moving forward. My only hope with this post is that it helps parents and future parents to know that it is possible, very possible to not use a pacifier.

      Thank you, Coryanne, for sharing!

      1. This conversation is very interesting to me, especially since my 20 month old has a bit of a “soother addiction”. Part of why we’ve kept with it is because we were worried about him becoming a thumb sucker–I was addicted to my thumb until age 7, and have terrible teeth that my dad couldn’t afford to fix. We are a low-income family, and we worry that if our child wrecks his teeth with long-term thumb sucking we won’t be able to afford the dental fees. I was under the impression that it might be easier to help our child transition away from a soother than a thumb (based on my own experience) but now I’m not so sure. Do you have any thoughts on how thumb sucking affects toddlers’ teeth? I’d love to hear from parents of thumb-sucking children about how their children grew out of the habit, and whether they were able to do it on their own or needed help.

        1. Janet, I would love to hear your response to the question above. It is a primary concern of mine as I consider how to handle this issue with my new baby. Thank you.

        2. I was a child who sucked my thumb and did so till I was 12 years old (in bed or if I was tired) one of my younger sisters also sucked her thumb till about the same age, both of us have never needed dental work/ braces my other sister who was not a thumb sucker needed braces.
          Both of us stopped sucking our thumbs when we were ready, as we got older mum and dad would ask us to take our thumbs out during the day but did not have a problem with it at night time or if we were unwell etc

          1. My youngest daughter (2 years) sucks her thumb (and put everything in her mouth – she is rather orally fixated) but my oldest daughter (4 years) never did and we didn’t try a pacifier with either of them. Our pediatrician told us that there was no evidence that thumb sucking affects the shape of their teeth. In fact, he said that and that there is no scientific evidence for a downside to thumb sucking, except getting them to stop when YOU want them to – which is really your problem, not theirs, I guess!

  3. avatar Roseann Murphy says:

    What a wonderful and “hot button topic” you have chosen to address with such finesse and dignity. The issue of pacifiers is so confusing. We are given them when our infants are born. We are sent home with a sack filled with them from the hospital. We are advised to use them in lieu of the thumb.
    So as many good parents do…we listen… and use the pacifier even if it does not seem to be in sync with what we believe or know.
    If a pacifier is never introduced a child cannot miss them…
    But what about the “fear of crying”? Nothing is more profound and sometimes painful than hearing our infant cry. The pacifier takes care of that… our baby stops crying and we are in control.

    After 25 plus years of studying RIE and children I have had the opportunity to see both sides of the pacifier and breast issue. Children who are given the opportunity to find their thumb or cry as they choose have the freedom to self-sooth.

    Listening to the cries of an infant as he is experiencing the world will be less challenging in the long run than “taking away” the precious “pacie” when the parent decides it is time.

    In 1982 interview Magda stated that “a child raised in this manner (without pacifiers or breast to quiet an infant) is always the initiator. This child will allow himself/herself to be sleepy, to be alert, to pay attention or not pay attention. These are all the ways we learn to be authentic, how to listen to our inner needs and how to respond to outside stimulation.”

    Not using the pacifier or the breast to “quiet” a child is a challenge in today’s world. Putting something in a child’s mouth to quiet them subconsciously says we do not want to hear them.

    After years of observation I have come to believe that self-initiated soothing from infancy on saves the child hours of “challenges” trying to cope with the loss of the pacifier or breast when it is used in infancy to stifle crying.

    I am so appreciative of the RIE philosophy and Madga’s wisdom and am so grateful for this extraordinary site.

  4. avatar Susan Leibowitz says:

    i’m using this blog as inspiration to do away with the binkie. she only uses it in bed, but it’s time. I told her yesterday that this is bye-bye binkie week. Any suggestions to make it easier? I’m full of dread.

    1. Try not to be full of dread! Commit yourself to the idea that you are doing something positive and loving for your daughter. Include her in the process, as you have so far, by telling her what will happen. Have her put the binkies into a bag herself and help you dispose of them. The most important thing is that you proceed with confidence. Any doubt or nervousness you have will make it harder for her. It might help to talk to her about a new special ritual you two could create together around bedtime — like a special music box that she gets to turn on…a new book…something like that.

      This will be far easier than you think, but she may well have tears and ‘grieving’ of some kind. Allow her to. In fact, encourage it! Don’t distract her out of her feelings. She needs to express them.

      If you are confident, committed, and honest with your daughter, this will be a healthy and positive ‘bump in the road’ for your relationship.

    2. avatar L Maxwill says:

      Not an RIE response but hey. 😉 I postponed taking away my daughter’s dummy for longer than required, but I talked to her for in the lead up about how they don’t last long and they can break and then it will be time for her to put it in the rubbish. She bit a hole in it, it was broken and so she put it in the rubbish and said goodbye. There were tears for 1 or 2 nights but it was easy to explain it was broken and OK to be sad about it and she moved on quickly.
      In my case my daughter was very ill at birth so a pacifier was given to aid sleep while in the neonatal unit. Sleep = healing. Then colic and then reflux for the first 8 months. I do believe that the pacifier helped with her pain and kept the parents mentally well. So while i love RIE and most of what it does, don’t stress out if you have to flex a bit to get through.

  5. Hi Janet,
    I am 100% behind you on that. I don’t like to “stuff” my baby’s mouth with a plastic thingy just to get some peace and silence. It just feels wrong.

    But I just discovered another problem that is never mentioned when discussing the pacifier situation – what do you do when the baby has not found his thumb? Our son is 6 weeks old and still far away from calming himself with his fingers. But of course he has times when he just wants to suck on something all day long. He is fed, warm, the diaper changed etc. but still he is unsettled and will suck on everything that comes in his way.

    That again made me wonder – what does this need for sucking mean? Everybody talks about the baby’s need for sucking and how to satisfy it. But does this need not come from another “problem”, does he not have this need because something else is bothering him? I remember I used my thumb until I was far too old, but I just used it because it would make me feel so comfortable. So I believe there must have been something that had me worried or scared in the first place.
    Do you understand what I mean – is the need for sucking something natural or is it just a manifestation of some other need that maybe I am just not able to figure out or I am overseeing?

    It would be great to hear what your thoughts are on that…
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Nadine,

      I do understand what you mean, and I know a baby’s furious sucking movements can be disconcerting! Babies are born with a strong instinctual need to suck, and they soon discover the ability to suck their hands, fingers or thumbs. In the meantime, I suggest talking to him, acknowledging that he is trying to find comfort, stroking him gently, holding him in your arms, not worrying.

      I understand your worry, but the desire to suck is natural, not indicative of a deeper unmet emotional need. Yes, thumbsucking can become a comforting habit, and we may continue using it as a means to comfort ourselves in all kinds of situations. I sucked my thumb at bedtime until I was 10 (and still have the urge sometimes!) I have fond memories of my pruney little thumb and it seemed very hard to quit when others wanted me to, but once I made the decision for myself — simple!

      And that is the beauty of waiting for your baby to choose, rather than plugging his mouth with a pacifier. Sucking becomes his choice, his way to satisfy a need he identifies. He is trusted and believed in. When he is ready to quit (which he hopefully will be earlier than you and I were) he quits!

      Congratulations on your boy!

  6. Thank you Janet!

    Just to make you feel better – I sucked my thumb until i was 14!!! (only at night tho). Now I can use it as a pro argument that thumb sucking does not affect your teeth growth…

    I have been watching our son trying so hard to get his fingers into his mouth today. He gets it but loses it again, so cute and so hard to watch when he gets frustrated at some point. But he’ll get there…

    1. Hmmmm. My teeth were never affected either — I never needed braces. Maybe we’re on to something with this long term thumb sucking! We should start a club, at the very least.

      Yes, he’ll get there! Take care and please keep me posted.

      1. What a relief to hear this — I sucked my thumb longer than I “should have” AND needed braces, and as my child approaches the magical age of five I have started to worry about her teeth… it is good to know that thumbsucking doesn’t NECESSARILY affect teeth.

        1. I, too, sucked my thumb for a while – till I was 7. In my case, I did need braces for the terrible overbite that the dentist attributed to the thumb sucking; I had a gap in my front teeth so wide I could drink through a straw through them! I also tended to suck my thumb whenever I felt nervous, tired, bored, lonely.. not just to help me fall asleep and I distinctly remember being made fun of for it by my peers since our society tends to think that thumb sucking past the toddler years is just as inappropriate as pacifier use. My first son used a pacifier until 12 months, but only for sleeping. Our current baby uses one for sleeping, too, but only for a few minutes at which point he spits it out and calmly lays till he drifts off to sleep.

          This post is inspiring as I may try to experiment with his temperament (which is generally very laid back) to see if he can calm himself without those few minutes of pacifier sucking. However, because of my personal experience, I tend to lean toward pacifiers rather than thumb since pacifiers can be taken away at some point.. But I’m open minded enough to consider the alternative 😉

  7. Hi Janet,
    I have begun to mind a 10 month old baby. In the interview with the parents they mentioned that they sometimes give the baby a soother when she was going down in the cot but that they were trying to wean her of it. I have never used them with my children so in the first few days I put her down without it and she only had a little trouble with this. I put this in my notes to the parents and they were very pleased saying that they don’t give it to her going down any more either. However, after a few days off, when she came back to me she had a lot of trouble going to sleep without it. Questioning the parents they told me that they had begun to give it if she woke. Now the baby does a real ‘angry’ cry with me when I put her down for naps without the soother. I’ve asked them politely but I feel their position is that they want to go without the easy option of giving it but they are leaving me with the hard task of being the one who doesn’t give it when her parents do, should I just give in and give it here too? They are first time parents and I really feel they don’t realize what a job they are giving themselves for the future. There are other issues arising from the differences between how she is treated at home to how she is treated here but at the moment, this one is probably causing the most stress, she disrupts the sleep of the others too! Any help would be appreciated. Deirdre

    1. Hi Deirdre,

      Wow. I just have to say that I think you are the most amazing minder, and those parents are so fortunate to have found you! I think you have handled this situation exceptionally so far, but no, you should not have to be the one who breaks habits when the parents are not able to follow suit. If I were you, I would ask the parents what they want. If they cannot unite with you in weaning their baby from the soother, then I think you will have to give it to her when she is in your care. No matter how wonderfully nurturing you are, it is more stressful for her to be with you than at home. So, it isn’t fair (in my opinion) to ask her to have to struggle a bit more to get comfortable there than she does at home.

      Cheers to you!
      Janet

  8. I’ve always had very mixed feelings about using the pacifier, but my 3.5 month old son has a really strong urge to suck (as do most babies), and it really calms him when he’s going off to sleep. We’re already tired of replacing it during his naps and throughout the night. Whenever we can, we remove it from his mouth as he’s drifting off, but before we put him into his crib.
    He often wakes up searching for it anyway, and is instantly calmed if I give it to him. However, I am getting the impression that the binky falling out is starting to actually disrupt his nighttime sleep. He has two night feedings, but the rest of the time he still wants to suck and will cry angrily if he can’t get the bink back into his mouth.

    I’d much rather he find his thumb! (He does stuff his fingers into his mouth quite often when he’s awake– so cute.)

    Any tips on how to lovingly wean him from his pacifier and help him to find his thumb?

    1. Hi Ruby,

      Ah, you don’t know how much I wish I had a magic tip for you! The most loving way to wean your baby from the pacifier will mean allowing him a bit of discomfort, and giving him the opportunity to comfort himself by sucking his hands, fingers or thumb. If you are committed to giving up the pacifier, the transition will probably be brief. Stroke his back, talk to him soothingly, acknowledge his efforts, believe him capable, be patient and confident. If he gets that angry cry, acknowledge that, too.

      Please let me know how you manage!

      1. Hello Janet,

        I had the same situation with my little girl when she was 2 months old. When I was reading Magda Gerber´s book I tried for her to suck her fingers instead of using a pacifier but she didn´t find as much comfort sucking her fingers, she would get angry and frustrated and would not calm herself until she had her paci, she just loved it. I personally didn´t see any problem with it before RIE, but I felt bad for taking her beloved paci when she was so little. Now she´s 9 months old and she´s able to find it by herself since she was 4 months. Ever since, instead of putting it in her mouth I offer it to her, if she chooses to take it great! if not I wait for her to calm herself however she prefers. I honestly love the RIE philosophy and I feel I´m “cheating” by using a paci, but my baby loves it and I prefer for her to give it up whenever she´s ready. So I guess my question is, Is it ok to offer her the paci, or is it still a big no no if I want to follow RIE philosophy with my little girl. I would love to hear your opinion!

  9. Hi Janet,

    Wow I have only just discovered your blog and have found myself in tears of inspiration. Wanting so much to read more but also needing to get some sleep soon!

    I have a 3 year old daughter who loves to suck her thumb. Ultrasound during pregnancy revealed her sucking her thumb at just 10 weeks gestation.

    I have read in a hand-in-hand article that thumb-sucking could be related to holding feelings inside. This has led me to worry that she has “some deeper unmet emotional need” from very, very early in her life. We have tried many cries and giggles following the parenting by connection approach. My instincts however tell me to tred carefully and that perhaps she is not yet ready to give up her thumb.

    Thank you for talking about trusting and believing in our kids. And for sharing your own experience of how hard it was for you to quit sucking your thumb when others wanted you to. In your words, sucking is her choice and when she is ready to quit she will quit. I think this is what my intuition has been telling me.

    With gratitude,
    Jodi

    1. Hi Jodi! Thank you for making my day!

      How can we not trust something our babies do in the womb? Maybe the take away from the Hand-in-Hand article should be awareness of the possiblity that your daughter is using her thumb to hold in feelings sometimes, and remembering to check in with her about her feelings.

      You sound like a wonderful mom.:)

  10. This just makes so much sense intuitively. I wish I had read this before introducing the paci to my babies. Now I’ve got a 3 year old firmly enamored with hers.

    I wonder if she would have been a thumb sucker. I was and prolonged like you too.

    1. Melissa, you are so open-minded and wonderful. We are all inclined to create some less than perfect habits for our children! (And welcome to the long time thumb-sucker’s club!)

  11. Another lovely post, Janet. Your kindness always shines through your writing.

    My son will be 3 in a couple of weeks, and still uses his thumb. Sometimes to sleep, but also in times of stress (like a room full of new kids, etc.). He is gradually finding other ways to soothe, but the thumb remains!

    I have always allowed this and not worried about it. In fact, it’s the only issue on which I have openly scolded my mother-in-law. She was chiding him for still using his thumb (this is probably a year ago!) and I went all mother-bear. Oops!

    I was secretly beginning to worry about his teeth. But now that I read that you were able to stop – easily – in your own time, I feel better.

    (Now. If only I could attain such peace around toilet learning! :))

    1. Jodie, thank you for your compliments! Well, this is proof that you are more than able to attain peace around toilet learning. 🙂

  12. We used the paci with our eldest. We went back and forth almost his whole first year about weither or not we should keep using it! He is 2 now & it is strickly used only in bed. I dont offer it, it’s in a bucket next to his bed. It usually falls out pretty quickly & he still sleeps. BUT since we started this habit for him, I am respecting that when he’s ready he will choose not to use it anymore.
    However, with our daughter, born 18 months after him, we stayed away from the paci (the paci was so hard with our son, having to put it back in his mouth when he would wake in the middle of the night!) It took a “long” time, but she found her thumb. She loves it. I just wrote a blog post about it being her “best friend” haha

    1. Sounds good, Theresa. I’d like to read the post. Please add the link!

  13. As a baby wearing, breastfeeding, all natural, believe in nearly every other blog post I have seen here I believe I stand alone in saying I can’t completely agree witht this article. If a child has the urge to suckle then they should be able to do so. However it has been in my experience (as a baby teacher for many years) that weaning a child from his/her thumb is much more difficult than the paci. And no it is not okay for a child that is several years old to suck their thumb. My niece did this for years, she is now 13 and still struggles with this. Her thumb is her comforter, so when she goes to sleep overs or on mission trips, or is any stressful or different situation she wants to suck her thumb. But then of course doesn’t because she feels embarrassed, which causes a feeling of shame. Sometimes she catches herself doing it because it is sheer habit, and it isn’t like she can get rid of her thumb, or get away from it. Her teeth are very “bucked” if you will and she will have to have 1000s of dollars worth of work done to her mouth for repair.

    I have 4 children, mine have all used pacifiers. I don’t shove it in their mouth every time they make a noise, but I do however allow them to use it when it is what they desire. And my 4 month old will certianly tell me that the paci is not what she is wanting at the moment if there is something else that she is desiring.

    I am really surprised at my reaction to this article since it airs on the side of “this is the way we were made”. To me it would make sense to debunk the use of the paci, God gave us one right there on our hand right? But, for the first time in a very long time I don’t feel that way. Not about this issue.

    1. Interesting, Misty, and I appreciate you sharing. There is a wonderful post (and response in comments) that I read recently by Hand in Hand, one of my favorite sites, about thumbsucking (mentioned by @Jodi above) : http://superprotectivefactor.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/thumb-sucking-and-holding-feelings-inside/ The educators at Hand in Hand believe that chronic thumbsucking happens because we are holding in heavy feelings that we don’t feel safe expressing… That makes sense to me in terms of my own experience and healing that I have had to do in my life.

      I have 3 children and none of them have been thumbsuckers or pacifier users. Only with the first one, did we even briefly try the pacifier. They all did suck their thumbs, fingers and hands when they were infants and had a need to suck. So, were my children able to avoid the need for pacifiers and habitual thumbsucking merely because of “chance” or is it because I didn’t offer them pacifiers, and also encouraged them to express their feelings?

    2. that’s because the true natural pacifier is mum’s nipple.

      Thumbs are terrible for teeth, and if a baby wants to suck, they should be sucking a human nipple, which actually promotes the CORRECT development of jaws and teeth. funny how that works.

      1. I agree completely
        My baby used her fingers for a while, now my nipple. Completely her choice (she roots for it) and kinda what it’s meant for in my opinion (in conjunction with nourishment)

  14. Great article. 🙂

    We have never used a dummy (as they call them in England ;)) with our now 12 months old girl. She has also never sucked her thumb. However, when she needs comfort she always finds it at the breast. If I remember those early months correctly, whenever she cried we woud rock her, speak to her etc but 9 out of 10 times she’d root for the breast.

    Many of my mum friends use dummies and I have seen them shove it in to their crying and upset (or worse: audibly hungry) babies. It hurts my heart seeing this but it is not my place to tell them.

    I know from photos that I had a dummy. I don’t know when it was taken away but I believe that I replaced it with lip and fingernail biting. 🙁

    Nev

    1. I too have seen them shoved into the mouth of a hungry baby. They will suck, quickly realize there is no food coming, and try to spit it out. Some mothers will force it into their mouths even as they cry and then the baby eventually becomes defeated and accepts it. I’ve seen it many times in play group settings and it always broke my heart.

  15. Hi. I love reading your blog, i have learned so much from it and i do believe it has made me a better infant caregiver. I apologize in advance for the long reply.

    I have very mixed feeling about this issue because i myself was/is an index-finger sucker (not my thumb). I had a child in my class who sucked her thumb, either hand, to sleep or when she was stressed, or concentrating, or tired, or hungry. The other teacher in the room constantly pulled her finger out or told her to stop, but this made me uncomfortable. The school did not have a guideline, and i disagree with what she was doing. The only times when i would mention something to her was when she was pointing to what she wants, then i would say “I’m sorry I can’t hear your words when your thumb is in your mouth, can you please tell me what you need”. Eventually she did it less and less, usually just at nap time.

    Watching her made me think a lot about myself and my experience. I have very few memories about myself growing up, however i do remember being yelled at for having my finger in my mouth, getting it pulled away, being called “cochina” (dirty or pig in spanish). which all in turn made me want to suck on it more because it just made me feel better. I would hide to suck. I was in 6th grade with one of my cousins and my dad told him if he ever saw me suck my finger to tell me “sacate el dedo cochina” (which was just an ugly way of telling me to take my finger out of my mouth). And of course, him sitting on the other side of the classroom i was constantly embarrassed, crying and then sucking again. In 6th grade!!
    My parents tried everything, they would put glue, nail polish, garlic, and their favorite: spicy chili on my finger. but i just couldn’t stop! they even had the dentist make this sort of retainer with a barrier so i couldn’t fit my finger inside, he even tried scaring me by saying it would push the top of my mouth until it blocked the air passage and i wouldn’t be able to breathe and die.

    Finally at around 15 i decided i wanted to stop and i did. I needed braces and as a reward for stopping my mom got my teeth fixed for me.
    After high school, I went through a bad depression and at the hospital (after having my stomach pumped) i started again.
    Talk about having the sucking suppress real feelings!!
    Now as i think about it after having this girl in my class, i realized a lot of things about myself. i even noticed that when i’m stressed or sad i tend to eat spicy food (no chocolate for me!) I still suffer from depression, and sucking and crying go really well together. (that is of course the most embarrassing thing i have ever admitted to doing for everyone to read) I don’t know if i’ll ever be able to stop, maybe after a few more years of therapy?

    I know my parents did what they thought was best.

    But what will I do when i have my own children? My partner said she thinks they probably will suck their finger too because i do. The possibility scares me, how will i know to help them stop, so they are not dependent on something that will only cause them embarrassment, but feel so good at the same time.

    I’m not sure if this is a post that has answers, i just wanted to share my experience and maybe by putting the words down it will help me with my own struggle.
    Thanks for reading 🙂

    1. Why do you feel you sucked your finger?

      In my years in therapy (on my own healing journey) and education I’ve learned when a child lacks the mastery to complete a stage in development a “piece of the development gets left behind” when moving on the next life stage.

      In older children besides being a habit there can be unresolved issues causing the child to stick with “infantile habits” or to regress to an earlier stage.

      No one escapes childhood unscathed but this doesn’t necessarily have to cause problems in adult life.

      When you find the love you are lacking or can accept the love offered to you or resolve the “missing piece “ the need for thumb sucking will resolve.

      Good for you being able to see a reflection in the little girl in your classroom. Observing others often leads to great insights into our own personality.

      No need to worry about the future with children. I’m sure you’ll do fine with this issue since you are sensitive to it. Your partner will also help with the child rearing and together you’ll approach this childhood developmental stage.

      I found counseling, hypnosis (E.M.D.R.) combined with massage
      And acupuncture treatments have worked wonders in my healing journey.

      Good luck in your life journey.

      I sucked my thumb until age 9.

      BTW my teeth were pushed out by the sucking but given my family’s history of buck and crooked teeth braces were needed anyway.

      1. Hi Dewi. And Aunt Betty, thank you so much for your considerate response to Dewi. Ditto to everything you say!

        I just want to add that I LOVE the repectful and sensitive way you handled the little girl in your classroom. In spite of the insensitivities you endured as a child, you have incredibly wonderful instincts.

        I don’t think you will pass this issue on to your children. As I mentioned above to another commenter, even though I sucked my thumb until I was ten, none of my three children are thumbsuckers. I did make an effort to allow them their feelings, even as babies, and listen to what they were communicating rather than putting something in their mouths.

        You are so sensitive and aware (as Aunt Betty said) that you will be a wonderful mother, I’m sure!

  16. I’ve always been of the opinion that thumb sucking causes dental damage, but had never done any research of my own… A very interesting read! I am very definitely against pacifiers (‘dummies’, here in NZ)as well.

    I started sucking my thumb at age 10!

  17. May I have permission to use this as a handout for our parent-infant class? Thank you for all your very helpful essays.

  18. My son sucks his first 2 fingers–upside-down–just like I did. 🙂 I was THRILLED when he finally “found” them. He never took to pacifiers, and I didn’t push them on him like I see other parents doing all the time. He liked to suck on my pinkie, but that became a pain, literally! (That was something that a nurse did in the hospital, I forget why, possibly to encourage latching?) I’m not concerned about it being a bad habit. I stopped all on my own when I was 5 or 6.

  19. Love this post. I have two kids and do not use pacifiers and feel really good about it. My daughter (3 months) seems to be interested in her thumb so we shall see. Thanks!!!

  20. Being a first time mother (at the ripe old age of 40), I was clueless. All my friends’ kids were already in high school and college. I made the mistake of starting the binky early (too many of his infant pics have that stupid thing in his mouth)- they gave it to him in the hospital and I saw how it soothed him when he cried, and I just went with it. He will be three in a few weeks, and still uses it (at night mostly, but once in a while during the day) and I need to try and wean him off of this thing. Sometimes he gets really, REALLY upset if he doesn’t have that binky. Any suggestions???

  21. I had left a Facebook message on your page asking for advice on how to “do away” with the binkies of my 2 year old twins. I have a 5 week old that won’t take one (I’ve tried, LOL). I used it with the twins because I read that it helped prevent SIDS and I was terrified of that as a new mom. Now with this baby, I was trying to use it because he likes to comfort nurse and I have twins to take care of, so sometimes it isn’t possible. His crying often wakes the twins, so I resort to letting him nurse when not hungry since he won’t take a binkie. Curious if you have any suggestions for that.

    The update on the twins binkie situation – I was going to wait because of jealousy issues with the new baby. However, today I was doing the dishes and my daughter walked into the kitchen, opened the trash lid, and threw away her binkie completely unprompted! I asked if she was ready to say bye bye to her binkie and she said yes and said “bye bye binkie”. Then at nap she asked for it and I reminded her that she threw it away. At bedtime she didn’t even ask for it until she saw her brother with his (they use different kinds). I reminded her again and she went to sleep without it, no problems at all. She made it very easy! Now her brother might be a bigger challenge, but we shall see.

    1. Wow, great “bye, bye binky” story, Leza. Good reminder not to underestimate children. Sorry I didn’t respond on Facebook! I sort of remember that now, but it must have come at time when I was a little overwhelmed.

      Regarding your tiny 5 week old, I would just do your best to read his cues, but also do what works for you and your family. This is about maintaining a high awareness level, which it sounds like you are definitely doing. So, go easy on yourself…you’ve got a lot going on!

  22. My three month old is very very resistent to falling asleep to anything but breast or an exhausted, frustrated me slipping a paci in his mouth. Any tips at all in how to get out of this cycle? I can’t breast feed him for hours on end while he sleeps at night and i cannot do it during the day as I have a toddler who needs me as well. I have tried laying next to him, validating his feelings but he seems to get a temper that I’m not giving him exacgtly what he wants (I’m trying to let him figure it out!) I keep giving in though because at three months old i’m worried extended crying will cause dammage. I know this is a habbit I’ve helped create (inadvertently) Please help!!!!

  23. avatar Ashley Parks says:

    I as a professional in the early childhood field and as a mother to 3, I am a supporter of the pacifier. “It’s easier to take away the paci than the thumb” is what a professor once lectured in class, but it stuck with me. I almost gasp when I meet people who refuse to allow an infant to “not suck”. I breast fed on demand, used a paci, pulled it out when not being used and wondered about that thumb. I watched other children who developed the thumb habit have so much more trouble saying goodbye to it as opposed to the paci. That paci usually leaves a child anywhere from the usual 12 mos to 4 years…. but I see that thumb sucking continue… usually. I though believe that no one usually sucks thumb for life I would bet that there are some “older” thumb suckers at night. I have watched 5…6…7…8…year old’s suck thumbs and not even know it. I saw the “dental” fall out of this as well.
    This is what I have observed.
    I believe babies should “suck” something. because it is innate but also research for SIDS. I would never stop my baby from sucking thumbs though. I would substitute w/ paci. i love hearing other opinions but I had to weigh in on this.
    Ashley

  24. My daughter had a week long stay in the NICU right after birth and was introduced to a pacifier there against my wishes. She mostly used it at nap times. By the time she was 7 or 8 weeks old, she decided she didn’t want it any more, and has never needed/wanted it since. At some point she discovered her index and middle fingers and will use those when she needs to self-sooth. She is 20 months now, and it seems she only sucks when she’s sleepy or feeling insecure (in a new environment or around new people). I love that she always has her fingers and there’s seldom a meltdown. It’s not her thumb, but it’s what she found that works for her.

  25. A mother once asked Magda Gerber how long she should let her child cry. Her reply?

    “As long as you can listen to it. If you don’t think she is in any real distress, crying is her language. It’s okay for her to cry…It doesn’t mean she is in any pain…allowing children to cry is healthy for parents and for children. This may be a difficult lesson to learn—but eventually you will understand what he’s saying to you.”

    Also this might be helpful to some:

    “The problem with the pacifier of today is that it is an object that inconveniently falls out of the child’s mouth. Worse yet, the child has no control over it. A parent decides when his child needs to suck on it and pops it into the child’s mouth or pulls it out. The parent also decides at what age it should be taken away….A child can calm herself by sucking her blanket or thumb. Some children cry to calm themselves. It’s usually a steady, rhythmic cry. A child quickly adapts to what a parent does to calm her. An electronic bouncer may quiet her, if that is the goal, but it won’t help her help herself.”

  26. avatar Katherine says:

    I believe there is one notable exception that should be pointed out…..due to the real need for comfort sucking and inability to find/suck their own thumbs, premature or otherwise ill babies are given pacifiers, which in my opinion is a legitimate use for them…..any thoughts?

    1. Katherine, that makes sense to me…if they are used with a high awareness level of the child’s cues.

  27. Thanks for reinforcing my own personal beliefs. I received a lot of pressure from family to get my babies to take a pacifier. My first took it occasionally, but fortunately was never really attached to it. He did eventually find his thumb and, at nearly two, he still sucks it, much to my mother’s dismay. My mother-in-law bought pacifiers for my 3 week old, but so far she has refused to take one and is happy when she finds her hands to suck on. In moments of desperation I have wished I could just end the crying by plugging them up, but I agree that it is better to let babies learn to handle it themselves.

  28. The sweetest thing I have seen is when my little girl was 6 weeks, maneuvering her left hand with her right hand so it went in her mouth. She is completely happy with both her thumbs now!

  29. I wish I would have read this when my daughter was an infant, but here I am. She is 22 months old and I’d really like to get rid of the paci. She is still breastfeeding as well, which I’ve been ready to move on from for a while now. However, she still wants to nurse about 5 times a day, and occassionally at night. I have recently decided not to push the issue with weaning her from the breast and let her move on when she’s ready.

    However, do you have a recommendation for how to help her decide to give up the paci or is it best in this case to just make the decision for her and go cold turkey? (making that decision for her seems contradictory to what I’ve been reading about RIE, but I may be misunderstanding) I understand that you are saying not to even give one in the first place, but since I have, I’d like some guidance of what to do.

    I try to keep it in her bed and empahsize that it’s only for sleeping. However, sometimes she just really begs for it and won’t give up trying to get it. I usually hold her by the crib and after talking through it with her, she’ll eventually put it back in the crib herself. However, her babysitter who watches her a couple of days a week, lets her have it outside the crib. She’s not as successful as I am at getting her to put it in her bed and it makes it harder for me to keep it in the bed when I’m home. It complicates things when I have to constantly deal with encouraging her to keep it in her bed, instead of just not having it all together.

    I’ve recently found your website along with Dr. Laura’s, and Jennifer Lehr’s…all of which I absolutley love. Am I right in assuming, all 3 of you follow a similar parenting philosophy?

    1. Hi Julie! Weaning your daughter off the pacifier is something you will have to lead. It sounds like you’re having trouble with the bedtime boundary (personally, I would insist that your caregiver abides by your wishes), so it may be best to go cold turkey. When you make changes with babies and toddlers, it’s all about preparation. Your daughter needs to feel included in this process. Also important are honest acknowledgements of your daughter’s feelings around the change. Here’s a post I wrote that might help: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2010/06/babies-breaking-habits-toddlers-dealing-with-change-3-steps-to-ease-the-way/

      Dr. Laura is someone I admire very much, but we disagree about many aspects of infant care. Dr. Laura is a follower of Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting. Lisa Sunbury ( http://regardingbaby.org ) and I are RIE Associates and certified instructors of Magda Gerber’s approach ( http://magdagerber.org ), which views infants as competent beings, capable of initiating activities and deserving of respectful, person-to-person communication. Jennifer Lehr attended RIE parenting classes and blogs about her interpretations of the RIE approach (most of which I agree with). But, yes, we are all about raising the bar for quality child care.

      1. Hi Janet,

        As I’ve told you before, I looove your articles and they have been a great resource to clarify things on the RIE approach that I wasn’t sure I was interpreting correctly. Just a quick question, I thought about going cold turkey to wean my daughter from the paci (She’s 12 month old now) but I find it to be disrespectful, since I´m making a decision for her to do something she might not be ready to do herself (How is this different from doing toilet training for example vs. waiting for her to be ready?). I never give the paci to “quiet her” (she chooses to use it or not) and it stays in her crib only for naps and nighttime and there is one in the car seat for long rides. Could you please tell me how come you don’t find just taking it away from her disrespectful? I’m not trying to be “difficult” on the issue but I’m trying to convince myself it is the best thing to do for her (since is what my pediatrician recommended). Many many thanks!

  30. Hi Janet!
    I have a 15 month old and discovered your blog and RIE just a few months ago. I really wish I had found you earlier, but I don’t think it’s too late to start! My little one is a very headstrong boy; this is going to be a wonderful quality in his academic and professional life, but at this point it is making things difficult for my husband and me. I am in the process of weaning, which he has protested, but we are now down to 1-2 times a day. We had to bring him to the ER a few times in the past two weeks where he has been strapped to a bed for x-rays, given a handful of IV’s, and poked and prodded to the extent that he is experiencing some anxiety. I would like to continue our weaning, but he is wanting to nurse all the time now. How can I encourage a 15 month old to start using his thumb? I hope it’s not too late!

    Thanks so much for all the guidance and support you give!

    Jessica

  31. I needed to read this a while back. My first daughter came out with a spot on her hand where she had been sucking. And of course everyone persuaded to stick a paci in her mouth, so being a young first time mom I listened. And it was almost the death of me. Constantly lost or dropped and dirty. We finally got rid of it when she turned 2, but less than a week later she found her thumb! So I suggest saving yourself a headache and let them find their thumb, its much easier.

  32. avatar Jessica Bishop says:

    I love this! My oldest is a thumb sucker. We offered her a pacifier, and when she was 6 weeks old she found her thumb. We never offered her a pacifier again! I get SO many negative comments in public though from strangers about her thumb sucking. My second baby cried A LOT as a newborn. We tried and tried to give her a pacifier. I spent so much money on a million different pacifiers. She would never take them. And now that she is 13 months I am SO glad she stood her ground!!! Now she is a great sleeper and a great self soother. Thank you for all your wonderful writings and practical tips!

  33. avatar Jessi C-B says:

    Hi Janet,

    I am the mother of twins (turning 2 in one week) and we are ready to wean them from their pacifiers. I never thought we would use them as infants for the reasons you cite in your post, but alas, we did. I am worried about conducting the weaning in the most sensitive way. Do you have any recommendations or other resources that may help? (We, too, were babywearers, breastfed exclusively till 17 months, all natural, etc…) Thank you!

  34. This is soo true! I don’t have kids yet, we plan to in a few years, but my Mom never used pacifiers with any of us 3 kids (and never breastfed *gasp!*) I never plan on using pacifiers, I think it looks silly when a 3 year old is walking around with one stuck in their mouth. My Mom always said she figured if we wanted to suck we had a thumb. None of us ever sucked our thumbs, and she said we were all very quiet, non fussy babies. Hopefully mine are the same!

  35. My first child used a pacifier, we followed the 5 S’s approach for the first 3 months, that said she knew better then us and would suck for a few moments and spit it out and then fall asleep and we didn’t rush to pop it back in at night. At 3 months she only had it in the crib and we reduced it to nighttime only at 6 months and then got rid of it without fuss at 12. She had lot’s of time during the day to fully express her emotions without me popping a pacifier in. I was also very fearful of SIDS and a pacifier at sleep is supposed to reduce the risk (I babysat for an infant who died of SIDS and was anxious at night until my daughter was 9 months old). I realized when I had my daughter I had not fully processed Brett’s death (I was 14 at the time and 31 when I had my first) and had to grieve for him and for my young self who felt much guilt (his parents were wonderful, the police not so much). The pacifier was my crutch, not my daughters and it helped me to sleep.

    With my second I introduced the pacifier but he saw no need for one, he also did not like being swaddled or in a swing or any of the 5 S’s! I think because he was my second, and I saw that the pacifier was a habit and not a need for my first I followed his lead.

    So sometimes we do things that make us feel better, then we learn that we are not in control and have to let go. Being a parent is hard but beautiful and their is no room for guilt if you are trying your best with the tools you have.

    Kimberly

  36. Greetings, we have a one month old. My husband does not seem to understand the concept that babies just need to cry it out sometimes and that when they cry they do not always want their thumb or pacifier. I hate we even introduced the pacifier into the baby’s life now. Not because of the baby but because of my husband. He seems to see it as a simple fix. Whenever the baby cries he thrust the pacifier into the baby’s mouth even though the baby is expressing other needs such as diaper needs changed, hunger or just needs held. I have attempted to explain to him the communication the baby is showing us but he just keeps arguing that pacifiers is how it’s been done for centuries and its his son to. I do not mind the pacifier on occasion but not as a way to control the baby just because he’s crying and he doesn’t feel like hearing it. I know he loves our son and partly just doesn’t want him upset but forcing the pacifier on him is really making me feel like he is not understanding the communication happening. Plus the baby knows how to self soothe using his hand he constantly sucked them in the womb and now. Do you have any good suggestions on how to explain to my husband about what he is doing in a way he can understand?

  37. Totally funny story about control and the pacifier. My girl, now 26 months old was never offered a pacifier, nor her older sister. We live in France, where I have never, ever seen a baby without a pacifier. Very often, children as old as 5 can be seen running around with one!

    So, now my little Leonora goes to “creche” or daycare 2 days a week. She has thus been exposed to the “tetine” or pacifier by every single child around her. Interestingly, the children have access to their pacifiers and choose when to use them (in a personalized, labeled box on a low shelf). My little girl loves to pass them out as she is super-nurture kid.

    SInce seeing them so readily used, she decided she needed to make one of her own and call it tetine. She discovered a very thick rubber hair band which she puts in her mouth nightly before going to bed. She says, “mama, my tetine!” Clearly some of the pacifier expectation is just that it is just what you do – much to my annoyance. But, hey as this post says, mostly it is about control, not so much the pacifier. I still hate um though!

    Allow me to just add how much you, Janet, have changed my children’s lives – by way of how their mother treats them after having read so much of your insightful, resonating and inspiring writings. You are so wise. Thanks for sharing your ideas with the public.

    1. Very amusing story, Nicole! And I can’t you enough for your kind words. I really needed a boost today!

  38. avatar Elizabeth says:

    So… I love you. I do. I am your biggest fan, I promise. BUT. I hate this. Totally for selfish reason, too. I know it’s true, but I already struggle with my three under 4, spirited children… 2 who still nurse and are in diapers… and all whom I’ve been with around the clock since birth. Several months ago, I asked a psychologist friend if giving our son his nuk 24/7 was going to lead into future addiction problems. He said it would, in his opinion, and he suggested tossing it. I tried for a day, our son did great but then a car ride happened and I lost my temper while he cried for it. Sigh. Yes, I also have temper problems (which is something you have helped me overcome almost entirely!)… Aaaaand he also has a blankie he is attached to like it’s his life line.

    Okay, so, here’s the deal. For the first time in their lives, I’m going back to work out of necessity. I will be working second shift and my husband first. A babysitter will watch them for the 4 hour overlap. So, even though I’m reading this and cannot deny the truth in it, I’m thinking right now would be a really terrible time to take it away. :/ Right in the middle of transition.

    Also… It might help to know there are already bonding issues with the son who is so attached to his nuk. The horrible pregnancy and delivery I had with him and then the following pregnancy while he was still a tiny infant have left the two of very disconnected. We are working through that, but I feel like until our relationship is secure, he should be allowed to use this as a substitute for my affection… I know that sounds weird but I don’t want to rush him into feeling safe with me.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. 🙂

  39. Hi Janet, again congrats on your great work! I read your article and I perfectly agree that nothing is more natural than thumb sucking. However, for the parents who are concerned about breaking this natural habit, maybe it is worth mentioning that the kids naturally let go of the thumb sucking when they are ready (according to my research, anytime between the age of 2 and 4). My daughter is now 2.5 years old and she started sucking her thumb when she was hungry, upset or tired. Now she only does it when she is tired (so not so much). I don’t put any pressure on her and I am sure she will give up on this for good when she is ready. I am not putting pressure because I myself was a thumb sucker, but my parents tried so hard to make me give up (I don’t even want to mention the techniques they tried), that I kept on doing it until I was 8 years old and I got a retainer (I had no more room in my mouth for the retainer and for the thumb… or maybe it was just the shame, I honestly don;t want to remember). So I used my experience to make some research and I am very happy about it 🙂
    Best of luck!

    1. At two my son is an avid blankie holder and finger sucker. The dentist (and some friends) tell me I should make him stop. If I ask him to stop he becomes more adamant about doing it. I am very interested in the research you have done!

  40. Hi Janet. I sucked my thumb every day and night until I was 12 when I got a row from my dentist due to bucked teeth. Although I still occasionally suck my thumb even now if I’m not well, it’s just a comfort thing and not anything to do with unresolved issues or anything. Anyway with my little one I gave her a dummy. She tried finding her thumb for a while but somehow I ended up pushing the dummy over her thumb as it was easier than helping her find her thumb. Something I regret. She had started playing with the dummy so now I don’t think it’s about soothing now and more about habits. She is 14 months and I’m not sure how to approach taking it off her. She can’t really participate in collecting them and disposing of them like you mentioned in previous comments. Any suggestions?

  41. avatar Bella Kapulkin says:

    Hey Janet,
    I am a big believer in listening to child and trusting them to finding the best way to do things. I have also never been a big fan of pacifiers, but I also know that when thumb sucking (just as pacifier sucking) because a prolonged habit, it can cause problems (with the jaws, teeth or cause wounds on the thumb itself).
    My son never took the pacifier, and gave up thumb sucking on his own at 5 months, but I am curious, if the thumb sucking does become a problem how do you help a child give up on it?
    Or how do you prevent it from becoming a prolonged habit to begin with?

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