Sucking – sucks? - Metro US

Sucking – sucks?

You’ve swaddled and shushed, but your baby’s still howling. So you reach for a pacifier, or encourage thumb sucking. Is this OK?

Thumb versus pacifier use is an issue that divides parents. Thumb sucking is a natural behaviour. Children have been observed thumb sucking in the womb. Pacifier proponents believe keeping your baby calm when he or she is crying for no reason is better for psychological wellbeing.

There are genuine positives: Pacifier use is believed to reduce the prevalence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. You can also control when your baby uses it (which you can’t do with a thumb) and when it’s time to end non-nutritive sucking (NNS) — as it’s termed — a pacifier can be thrown out.

The downside is that if your baby becomes dependent on it, you’ll be up throughout the night to pop it back in. Later, it becomes a barrier to speech.

So while this sanity-saver seems like a good option, NNS can have implications for growth. “The greater the amount of time during the day that the child engages in non-nutritive sucking, the greater the forces that the growing bones and associated soft tissues will be exposed to,” explains Dr. Sarah Hulland, a paediatric dentist. “In turn (this) can cause a change in the relationship of the oro-motor complex, so how the mouth is shaped, how the dentition inter-relates, how the lips can close, how the tongue behaves in the mouth (can be affected).”

Hulland warns that soother sucking should be limited to settling your baby. “Sucking on soothers can lead to significant restructuring of the oro-facial complex, which usually manifests itself as an open bite where the front teeth don’t meet. This can lead to difficulties closing the lips and a tongue thrust.”

In response, pacifier producers are creating more ergonomic soothers. But getting kids to stop can be tricky. “The easiest way to stop pacifier sucking is to keep soother-access to essential-use only,” explains Hulland. “And for thumb suckers, remove thumb from a child’s mouth or replace it with an alternative comforter.”

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