Pacifier or Thumb?

Baby laying down sucking thumbWelcome to one of the greatest debates in parenthood – should you give baby a pacifier to help soothe him, let him suck his thumb, or discourage both? The true answer depends on a lot of factors, but mainly boils down to your patience level. Are you willing to put up with an unhappy baby for a bit longer, or do you want relief now? And are you willing to go through the pains of breaking either habit down the road?

The Thumb Argument

Some babies just naturally find their thumbs (or fingers), and many researchers believe that this is their own way of soothing. So once they get used to sucking their thumb, should your replace it with a pacifier? It depends on your personal preference. Pacifiers are less likely to cause teeth problems whereas thumb sucking can lead to an overbite if it continues too long. The pacifier is probably more sanitary, but if baby has already learned to soothe themselves you may not want to transfer this ability to an external object.

While pacifiers can become a habit that needs to be broken, most children give up thumb sucking before they are a few years old. You never have to remember to carry a thumb with you, so your child has the ability to settle himself down whenever he wants.

The Pacifier Argument

Some babies are just naturally fussy. They fret, kick, cry, and will not settle down. Many parents find that to just get some rest they need a pacifier to help baby go to sleep, otherwise they would never get any. Pacifiers offer a simple solution to soothing baby quickly, but they do have their drawbacks.

The primary drawback is that the pacifier soon becomes something that baby relies upon to soothe, instead of learning to soothe themselves. They may start to wake up at night when the pacifier falls out, interrupting the sleep of everyone in the house. Parents also find that the pacifier is an “easy” fix for fussy babies, so soon baby gets the pacifier all the time and will not be happy without it. This becomes a hard habit to break and can lead to frustration down the road.

If you do decide to use a pacifier, consider the following few tips:

  • To avoid nipple confusion, a pacifier should not be introduced until baby is breastfeeding well, or about 4-6 weeks.
  • Pacifiers should only be offered at naptime and bedtime, and if possible, baby should not fall asleep with the pacifier in his mouth.
  • Once baby is about 6 months old, the pacifier should be restricted to crib use only.

Whether you choose the thumb or pacifier it is important that they don’t become too much of a habit. If baby is fussy, try a cuddle, song, or distraction before offering a pacifier or encouraging the thumb – it will pay off down the road with a happy, healthy, and able to self-soothe baby.

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Pacifier or Thumb?

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16 comments

  1. Cody says:

    My son hates binkies. He’s been a hand/thumb sucker since day 1 and I’m completely fine with it. He doesn’t do it all day everyday. As long as he doesn’t develop a complex about it I think he will learn to stop on his own. Personally it makes me nuts seeing 2-3 year old with a binky still for no reason other than just to have it

  2. jenelle says:

    My daughter used a pacifier, she loved that thing. I didn’t mean her from it either when I decided she couldn’t have it anymore I just took them all and threw them out. Of course I let her use it far too long without really thinking about it since she was my first and I was young(21 when I had her). She was about 18 months old when I finally took it away, had she still been a baby I would have weaned her, but she took it very well anyway. I have a three week old son, so far he refuses to take the pacifier at all. Personally I’d rather my kids take a pacifier than suck their thumb/fingers for a couple reasons. One I think it’s gross to see them with their thumb/fingers in their mouths, plus unlike pacifiers you simply can’t take their thumb/fingers away. And that’s the part that really gets me, so sure most kids may stop doing it by age 3(which if you ask me is already extremely too long for them to be doing it) which makes dental problems more likely since its easier for them to do it longer as their thumbs are always right there. Ideally they wouldn’t use either(so far my son doesnt suck his thumb either). He does suck on his firsts/hands to let me know he’s hungry but thats it.

  3. Kupolaf says:

    I weaned my soon from the binky at 8 mos. It was so nice not to have to keep them clean, or try to find one when he’s upset , but then he started thumb sucking to self soothe which is fine for now bit I’m looking to break the habit early.

  4. mommy nhoj says:

    We are trying to wean her from using pacifier. We didn’t give it to her after church yesterday! She slept without it! Let’s see her progress today.

  5. LIZ says:

    i give my baby the pacifier she didnt like it so much, because a rather that one than the thumb

  6. Alanna says:

    My sister sucked her thumb into he late teens. I plan to limit both thumb-sucking and pacifier dependency.

  7. Rosa says:

    Love the information 🙂

  8. Rosa says:

    Good information

  9. Heatherly says:

    That is so cute. How’d you do it????

  10. Heatherly says:

    I can see both sides…
    6 of my children used pacifiers…it was so easy to get them off of it. We’d just say it’s gone. They’d cry for a day or two, but then it was over.
    2 of my children sucked their thumbs. I thought "how great. We’ll never have to search in the house for that lost pacifier again!" Or when the pacifiers are dropped on the floor in public…gross. But you get used to it. Anyway, with thumbsucking, I was relieved with not having to deal with a pacifier. WRONG! It was so hard for them to kick the habit. At 4 1/2 years, my daughter had to go to the orthodontist because she sucked to hard that her teeth did not bite down…she would have a hole in her bite. We took his advice on how to get her to quit. Thank God her teeth grew in perfectly.
    IF we do anything, we’ll do a pacifier for this next baby. I’d like to try nothing if we can!
    I have a friend with 6 boys and never let them use either one. I was amazed!

    • mommy nhoj says:

      Yes, indeed thumbsucking can do more harm. I am glad my baby’s been off the pacifier for almost 3 weeks. It was just so hard to keep her quiet inside the church since it’s gone

  11. Sierra-Dawn says:

    My lil man does not like the passi and he sucks on his had to say he is hungry

  12. Ada says:

    My baby would not have pacifier and does not sick his fingers. I learnt about confusing the nipple for pacifier in the hospital.

  13. bethj0413 says:

    I never used my thumb or a pacifier and I can only hope my baby follows in my foot steps. She refuses a pacifier and doesn’t suck on her fingers.The crazy thing is only one thing soothes her when upset. That would be her favorite song. Literally the only thing that helps is Hell on the Heart by Eric Church.

  14. DH says:

    i didnt break the thumb habit until i was 12…i am not making the same mistake with my baby boy!

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