Sucking on a finger, thumb, or pacifier is normal for most babies and young children. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), thumb- or finger-sucking and using a pacifier are associated with your baby’s need to satisfy their urge for contact and security.

Mustela’s baby experts answer your questions about sucking on a finger, thumb, or pacifier — like why your baby would prefer either one and if there are possible side effects.

In this article, you’ll also discover when and how to phase out these habits!

Why Do Babies Use Pacifiers Or Suck Their Thumbs Or Fingers?

baby sucking on fingers

Your little one developed the sucking reflex early on. You may even have an ultrasound picture of your baby sucking their thumb or fingers in your womb!

Sucking is a natural reflex, so it’s completely normal for your infant to suck their fingers or a pacifier. What’s more, this sucking action makes your baby feel happy and secure! It’s a way for your infant to self-soothe.

When your baby uses their sucking reflex, it helps them adjust to a changing environment, like when they’re separated from you or when they’re in an unfamiliar place.

Because the sucking reflex helps your baby feel safe, it also helps them relax...which can help them sleep! Another way you can help your baby relax? Massage them with Mustela’s Baby Oil. Our oil stimulates your baby’s senses and prepares them for bedtime.

Finally, if your baby is close to four-months-old — around the age of teething — they may find that sucking their fingers helps to soothe their sore gums as well.

What You Need To Know About Pacifiers

baby sucking on pacifier

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of pacifiers, we should mention that, if you’re breastfeeding, you may want to wait until you and your baby have established a good rhythm before introducing a pacifier, which can take three to four weeks.

Why? Your little one may get confused with the sucking patterns and start to use you as a pacifier instead!

(Tip: In those early days of breastfeeding, try Mustela’s Nursing Comfort Balm! The soothing and restorative nipple cream keeps your skin comfortable while nursing! It also moisturizes and protects your nipples, eases discomfort, and helps to replenish and restore your skin during and after breastfeeding.)

It’s also important to keep in mind that some babies reject pacifiers, and that’s completely OK! Don’t force it if your little one isn’t interested.

Pacifier Tips

Trust us, you will play hide-and-seek with your baby’s pacifier at some point, so keep a few extras on-hand as backups!

And before giving the pacifier to your baby, always make sure it’s clean and sanitized because your baby’s immune system isn’t fully mature until they're about six months old.

Additionally, keep an eye out for the wear and tear on your baby’s pacifier. Once your infant starts teething, they may use it more as a teether than anything else, which can cause rips and tears

Lastly, choose a pacifier that is an appropriate size for your baby’s age. A pacifier that’s too small or too large for your little one’s mouth may not comfort them at all. Even worse, it may pose a safety risk.

Now that you know about the basics of pacifiers, let’s take a look at both the pros and cons of letting your little one use a pacifier.

Pros

When comparing the pacifier to sucking on fingers or thumbs, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each. Here are a few pros of using a pacifier:

  • May lower your baby’s risk of SIDS
  • Easier to take away when the time comes

Cons 

  • Increases the risk of ear infections, especially after six months
  • May negatively affect breastfeeding
  • Causes more disturbances at night (When the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth while they’re sleeping, they wake up crying.)
  • May have adverse dental effects if used after the age of two

What You Need To Know About Finger- And Thumb-Sucking

baby sucking thumb

If your baby doesn’t take a pacifier, thumb- and finger-sucking is another option for them. With finger- and thumb-sucking, your baby doesn’t have to continually pick something up whenever they want to soothe themselves.

Compared to a pacifier, sucking fingers or the thumb is a harder habit to break, which is obviously on our list of cons. But before we talk about those, let’s take a look at some of the pros.

Pros

  • Always available
  • An easy way to help your baby cope with teething

Cons

  • Adds germs to your baby’s mouth
  • May have adverse dental effects if used after the age of two
  • No evidence that it can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS
  • May leave a sore on fingers or thumb (Try our Cicastela Moisture Recovery Cream to treat this area! It keeps your baby’s skin comfortable and relieves any skin discomfort by delivering cooling hydration.)

When To Phase Out Pacifiers And Finger- And Thumb-Sucking

baby sleeping while sucking on pacifier

Like most parents, you might be concerned about when your baby should cut this habit and if using a pacifier or sucking their thumb or fingers is harmful in the long-run.

Using a pacifier and letting your baby suck their thumb or fingers beyond their first birthday can cause dental problems for them in the future. For example, it can affect the shape of your baby’s mouth and how their teeth line up.

The good news is that most babies eventually outgrow their pacifier or thumb-sucking and give it up easily if you intervene early enough. The longer you wait the more difficult breaking the habit will become.

Additionally, as we mentioned above, sucking a pacifier is an easier habit to cut than thumb- or finger-sucking because of one obvious reason — the pacifier isn’t attached to your baby’s body!

But don’t worry! Whether your baby sucks their thumb, their fingers, or a pacifier, breaking the habit can be done.

How To Phase Out Pacifiers and Finger- Or Thumb-Sucking

baby sleeping while sucking thumb

We know your journey as a parent sometimes involves making difficult decisions. And taking something away from your baby — like a pacifier — is one of them.

That’s why we’ve come up with a few ways to help you and your baby during this time!

Offer Praise And Excitement

Rather than focusing on the times when you’re not seeing much progress, focus on the times when you do!

Every time your baby successfully handles a situation without having to use their pacifier, acknowledge their progress. If you notice your little one hasn’t sucked on their fingers in a while, let them know you noticed!

Even young babies can pick up on the meaning when you show excitement. Praise is the incentive they need to drop this habit!

Keep Your Baby’s Hands Busy

If your baby is distracted, they won’t even think about putting their fingers in their mouth or reaching for their pacifier!

Use the diversion method by refocusing your little one’s attention on something to keep them busy and keep their mind off of their habit!

Gradually Wean Your Baby

Obviously, you don’t want to take this habit away from your baby cold-turkey. That wouldn’t be good for anyone involved!

Before attempting to wean your little one from their pacifier or fingers, explain why it’s time for them to put the pacifier away or stop sucking their thumb — if they’re old enough to understand.

Start with taking the pacifier away during nap time first, meaning your little one is only getting their pacifier at night. After a few days of no pacifier at nap time, take it away at night, too. It may be difficult the first night or two, but stick with it!

And if your child is a thumb- or finger-sucker, try putting a bandage or sock over your baby’s thumb or fingers at night to help them drop this habit.

Help Your Baby Relax In Other Ways

As you know by now, sucking on fingers, thumbs, or a pacifier is a way for your baby to relax at night. To help stop this sucking, offer your little one alternative ways to relax at night, like by giving them a bath.

Try Mustela’s Multi-Sensory Bubble Bath and make bath time therapeutic and fun while also protecting and hydrating your baby’s skin!

After your baby gets out of the bath and settles down for bedtime, massage their skin with our Hydra Bebe Body Lotion to keep them relaxed!

Mustela Cares

baby sucking on pacifier

Both thumb/finger-sucking and pacifier use can turn into long-term habits, but that doesn’t mean your baby should avoid them altogether! Remember that sucking either one is normal in a baby's first year, and the majority of kids give it up easily.

When the time comes to phase out finger-sucking or using a pacifier, keep the tips we’ve mentioned here in mind and take advantage of Mustela’s soothing and relaxing bathtime and skin care products!

Happy weaning!