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Thumb-Sucking


"Mera Thumb Kidhar Hai"

Since last month, Mann has started playing a game called "mera thumb kidhar hai". When he is sleepy, he starts crying. He then puts two fingers of his right hand into his mouth. Realizing that these are not his thumb, he starts crying again. He then curls the fingers of his left hand into a fist with his thumb outstretched, and slowly lifts his hand to his mouth, letting it hover around his lips for some time. Unable to find his thumb, the hand goes back down, then up again, then down again and so on and so forth. His howling continues for about five minutes, until in a burst of divine inspiration, he "finds" the left thumb, which then slides into his mouth, followed by some intense sucking after which he promptly quietens down and goes to sleep. 

It doesn't work if we try to help him by placing the left thumb in his mouth or next to his mouth-he has to be able to find it himself.
 

When It All Started

Mann first started sucking his thumb about a month ago and has continued since. Typically, this happens either when he is sleepy or immediately after a feed; he puts his left thumb inside his mouth and keeps sucking, clinging onto the thumb for dear life.

When it first happened, our intuitive reaction was to remove the thumb from his mouth. One of us would gradually pull it out, only to find that within a minute, it would be back inside the mouth. We started using mittens, which helped only to a small extent and there were times when the left mitten would be completely soaked by his saliva.
 

Natural Pacifier

What we did realize though was that when Mann was crying, if he was allowed to suck his thumb, he would immediately stop crying. From a purely selfish perspective, the best thing to do was to allow him to suck his thumb-in fact, on occasion I would even bring his thumb next to his mouth, so that he would suck it and quieten down; as I mentioned earlier, this rarely worked though.

We asked our pediatrician about this habit. He told us that it was perfectly fine to let Mann suck his thumb and if it stopped him from crying, that was the best anti-crying measure we could have asked for. The thumb acts as a natural pacifier. We were worried about the long-term effects of sucking, but he reassured us saying that the majority of children outgrow thumb-sucking by the age of 2-3.
 

Thumb-Sucking is Acceptable

I did some research thereafter. Most current views agree with those of my pediatrician. Thumb-sucking in infancy and early childhood is an acceptable situation. The problem really arises if it continues beyond 4-5 years of age, but even then, using a combination of positive feedback measures, it is possible to take care of this problem. Only once in a blue moon does it may become an intractable issue. The only major drawback of thumb-sucking is that once permanent teeth start appearing, the act of thumb-sucking may cause malalignment of the teeth leading to the need for orthodontic treatment.
 

You Can't Force Thumb-Sucking

Maya does not suck. We actually tried to teach her how to suck, so that like Mann we would also have a natural way of taking care of her crying spells. When she did not take to sucking, we asked our pediatrician whether we could use pacifiers. He does not like the idea of artificial pacifiers and eventually we decided not to use them. By and large, with a little human touch and some rocking and monotonous humming, we are able to take care of her when she cries, unless she is hungry, in which case a top-feed or a breast feed quieten her down.
 


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