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Many parents of a thumb-sucking infant question whether they should substitute a pacifier for the thumb. So far, research does not show that one is preferable over the other. Also, although parents can encourage a child to suck a pacifier rather than a thumb, they can't control which the child will prefer.
The advantages and disadvantages of pacifier use and thumb-sucking aren't always entirely clear. So there are some general issues for parents to think about.
The advantages of using a pacifier include being able to control when your child is allowed to use it and being able to take the pacifier away when it is no longer appropriate. But a young child who uses a pacifier may be more likely to get ear infections.
An advantage of thumb-sucking is that it may not interfere with breast-feeding. And children usually stop on their own between the ages of 3 to 5. But if thumb-sucking is a habit past age 4, the child may develop dental problems. Also, it may be more difficult for a child to stop thumb-sucking than using a pacifier.
Talk to your doctor about how long you should wait before you introduce a pacifier to a breast-feeding infant.
Keep in mind that there is no reason to encourage thumb-sucking or pacifier use in infants who do not show a need. The sucking instinct in these infants is satisfied through breast- or bottle-feeding.
Last Revised: March 20, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
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