I keep seeing mums posting in the North Shore Mums Facebook group whether they should allow their baby to suck their thumb, because they are afraid of the addictive nature. So I thought, as a mum whose child sucked her thumb and now successfully weaned, I should share how I managed the habit.
My daughter started to suck her thumb when she was two months old. At first, I was worried about the long-term effects.
However, my fears were allayed after reading ‘The Baby Whisperer’ by Tracy Hogg. According to Tracy, for a baby, thumb sucking is a great achievement. Babies are born with curled hands and no idea how to control their limbs. Being able to separate the thumb from other fingers, and bringing that into the mouth (instead of hitting the eyes or nose), sucking and enjoying the sensation is a great achievement. I imagine that equals to a Mum being able to cut her toenails again once the baby is born, or, a Mum being able to walk again for the first time after her Caesarean delivery. Being in control over one’s own body is essential for the peace of mind. If someone told me not to sit crossed leg or rub my eyes when they are itchy, I would be frustrated!
So I let her suck, and how rewarding that was! She slept 13 hours straight when she was only 4 months old. This, paired with a soft toy (also suggested by the book), was really effective. Once the toy was at sight, my daughter immediately sucked her thumb and soothed herself. In the cot, in the car, in public place, whenever she was tired, I just had to show the toy and she would suck and sleep.
When she turned three, I decided to interfere, because I was afraid that would effect her jaw formation. Three years being a parent, by then I knew that children are sensitive and every drastic change you attempt has to be done in a gentle and gradual manner.
STAGE ONE: NO SUCKING OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
First stage, I told her about the plan. She was able to communicate, and understood my reason. Had I started when she was two, that would have not worked and I would have easily lost to the tantrums. I told her we did this because she was not a baby anymore. I only asked her not to suck thumb outside the house.
STAGE TWO: NO SUCKING OUTSIDE HER BEDROOM
Second stage, a few weeks, or months (I forgot the details already), after she was weaned outside the house, I asked her to stop sucking outside her room. This was to cut the habit of sucking while watching TV. I reminded her by telling her once the thumb was in, the TV would be off.
STAGE THREE: SUCKING ONLY FOR NIGHT SLEEPS
Third stage, a few weeks later, I asked her to only suck at night, thumb was forbidden during nap time.
We happened to travel overseas around this time and stayed at my in law’s house, and so, following the rule, she was not allowed to suck AT ALL. Of course she cried when she realised that, but as we slept on the same bed, I told her I would help her. I lied next to her and held her thumb until she fell asleep crying. It was kind of sweet.
STAGE FOUR: NO SUCKING AT NIGHT
We came back to our home and immediately I asked her to stop sucking at night too. Of course this was the hardest stage, because I was sleeping in my own room and would not be able to watch her. I tried wrapping her thumb with a band aid, but it did not work. She made tried, but being asleep, she just sucked her thumb unconsciously. The bitter nail polish didn’t work either, because you have to apply twice a day to make it bitter enough, and I kept forgetting. She became used to it and went on sucking. I tried cloth, and it didn’t work either. I wanted to rub chili paste on her thumb, because this was my Mum’s method to wean my sister. But a friend talked me out of it because she might rub her eyes in her sleep.
In the end, I wrapped her thumb with tissue paper and secured it with Dora band aid, and casted a special spell that Dora would remind her should she forget. Tissue is not nice to suck, it helped with the unconscious sucking.
TIPS FROM OTHERS
I went around asking adults who used to suck thumb and how they stopped. Some stopped because school friends mocked them, some stopped naturally because they got busy using their hands writing or doing craft when they went to school, and they just forgot to do it. My sister stopped abruptly one day after a dream. In the dream, Mum pulled her thumb out her mouth, and suddenly from the next morning on, she lost interest.
It took over a year to fully wean my daughter. The night stage was the hardest and longest. Unfortunately she turned into a nail biter! I just accept it because at least her jaw is safe and I just have to deworm the whole family every 6 months. I’m sure this does not have to be the case for everyone else. I believe a child can be fully weaned without other consequences, like my sister, my cousin and my friend. The key is to do it gradually and gently.