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Q: Child Psychology - Needing to suck to get to sleep ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Child Psychology - Needing to suck to get to sleep
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: daz70r-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 13 Apr 2006 14:14 PDT
Expires: 13 May 2006 14:14 PDT
Question ID: 718636
Is it harmful to try and break this habit in an 8 month old baby,
because it is obviously very stressful for her. How long is it normal
for a child to rely on sucking to be able to get to sleep. Can you
supply information on what perecentage of children lose this
requirement naturally through the ages as they grow older.
Subject: Re: Child Psychology - Needing to suck to get to sleep
Answered By: cynthia-ga on 14 Apr 2006 02:44 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi daz70r,

I was able to find some information about babies suckling at bedtime
that I think you will find useful:

Falling Asleep at the Breast or Bottle
..."It is very natural for a newborn to fall asleep while sucking at
the breast, a bottle, or a pacifier. When a baby always falls asleep
this way, he learns to associate sucking with falling asleep; over
time, he cannot fall asleep any other way. I have heard a number of
sleep experts refer to this as a ?negative sleep association.? I
certainly disagree, and so would my baby. It is probably the most
positive, natural, pleasant sleep association a baby can have.
However, a large percentage of parents who are struggling with older
babies who cannot fall asleep or stay asleep are fighting this natural
and powerful sucking-to-sleep association.

Therefore, if you want your baby to be able to fall asleep without
your help, it is essential that you sometimes let your newborn baby
suck until he is sleepy, but not totally asleep. When you can, remove
the breast, bottle, or pacifier from his mouth and let him finish
falling asleep without something in his mouth. When you do this, your
baby may resist, root, and fuss to regain the nipple. It?s perfectly
okay to give him back the breast, bottle, or pacifier and start over a
few minutes later. If you do this often enough, he will eventually
learn how to fall asleep without sucking..."


Pantley's Gentle Removal Plan


I think this author's book would be a wise investment:

The Baby Sleep Book
by William Sears, M. D., Robert Sears, M.D., James Sears, M.D. and
Martha Sears, R. N.

..."A smart baby will come to love this feeding-to-sleep association
and enjoy and expect it for as long as you breastfeed or use bottles.
On the one hand, this means that you will be able to count on feeding
as an easy way to get baby off to sleep. Even a baby who is fighting
sleep will eventually succumb to the relaxing feelings that come from
sucking. On the other hand, mom?s breasts (or the bottle) have to be
there at bedtime, and again later, when baby awakens in the middle of
the night. Even if feeding is your baby?s number-one primary sleep
association, you may want to help him learn other associations so you
have other ways to put him to bed..."


On the other side of the coin:

It's very difficult to locate information about trying to break a baby
of 8 months old from needing to suck, at bedtime or otherwise. It's
not really addressed at that age, it's normal behavior.

It is normal, and expected, for an infant child to need to suck --at
bedtime and any other time. First, it's not a "habit" --it's born as a
reflex in utero, and is associated with receiving nourishment which is
in turn is very comforting to infants. Although not ALL babies
continue this into the 3's and 4's [years], it is normal for babies to
suck themselves to sleep for years, not months.

Many children suck their thumbs [or pacifiers] to calm and comfort
themselves, not only at bedtime, but at all hours of the day. It eases
the transition to sleep and makes being without Mom a bit less scary.
It's true that frequent or intense thumb [or pacifier] sucking beyond
4 to 6 years of age can cause problems, including dental problems,
(such as overbite), thumb or finger infections, and being teased by
non-sucking pals.

The thing is, most of the pages that address sucking do so in the
framework of pacifiers and thumbsucking, and NOT necessarily at
bedtime. Bedtime would be the toughest time to break, not the easiest,
or even the first you should try to break. Bedtime is when it's most
beneficial and most comforting. Daytime sucking can be dealt with
first, but even that is not harmful to the child as long as they stop
before they lose their front teeth. If the child is still sucking when
permanent teeth start to grow in, it's more likely there will be an
overbite problem.

Another thing to realize is that if you have a baby that falls into
the category or percentile of kids that DO SUCK till age 3 or 4,
you'll have to deal with that. You might very well make it worse by
trying to control it than by letting the urge run it's course without
bringing undo attention to it and causing a power struggle over
something that developmental books say is normal behavior. At that
point, whose problem is it?


Pacifier or Thumb?
..."For some people, the answer to this controversial question is:
neither. However, if you understand why your baby wants to suck,
you?ll realize why sucking shouldn't be repressed. Sucking is a
natural instinct that is closely associated with feeding, but that
also serves a purpose beyond nutrition. For a baby, sucking is tied
closely to comfort and love, providing baby with feelings of warmth
and security. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of the
pacifier and the thumb..."

..."Babies usually first discover their thumbs at around six weeks and
may continue the habit until the age of four. Thumb sucking often
reaches an all-time high at seven months when the baby is more mobile
and begins to explore his environment more extensively. The thumb is a
constant comforting companion that can?t be lost or left behind..."


The "primitive instinct" (like blinking, swallowing) --to suck
dispappears by about 3-4 months, but the sucking instinct remains as a
comfort to the child.  I reference the site above and the document
below that cites studies where infants were, and were not, allowed to
suck. The differences are startling.

I found this informative document at the West Valley Pediatric
Dentistry, serving the western region of Phoenix, Arizona:

Infant Sucking

Selected excerpts:

How do newborn babies learn to suck?  
Sucking is a newborn's reflexive response to any nipple-shaped object
that brushes the baby's cheeks or lips.  Essential to life, this
sucking reflex enables infants to take in nourishment. Without this
reflex, babies would starve.

Does sucking affect infants? sleep habits?  
Thumb and finger sucking babies tend to sleep longer and more soundly
than non-sucking infants, apparently because sucking eases the
transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Do sucking habits take on new functions as infants grow?  
Later in the first year, teething may further increase babies?
interest in sucking and chewing.  Thumbs provide soft ?teethers? for
tender gums as well as physiological calming.

Are there differences in emotional development between babies who suck
and those that do not suck?
Psychological research with babies six months to a year suggest that
children who suck their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers actually may
develop more self-confidence than those who do not.  Non-month olds
who have sucking habits crawl further from their mothers and seem to
need to spend less time in close bodily contact with her.  Mother of
these infants stay in frequent contact with their children, but are
able to do so with words and smiles rather than needing to hold them


Here's a page that gives advice on WHY and HOW to break a thumbsucking
habit. Even they say this is normal, up to age "three to four and
[should] stop by age five." :

Breaking Your Child's Thumbsucking Habit - by Richard S. Masella, D.M.D., F.A.C.D.
..."Thumbsucking in preschool children is a very normal response to
anxiety and stress and does not point to insecurity or emotional
problems in your child. While thumbsucking is normal for infants and
toddlers, this behavior should decrease by ages three to four and stop
by age five.


Here's a couple more posts you might find informative:

Question: My baby sucks her thumb all the time. Should I try to stop her?
..."Answer: Babies generally suck their thumb to soothe themselves,
which is good, because they need to learn how to rely on their own
resources. The ability to regulate or control one's behavior and
emotions is an important developmental challenge. When your child
sucks her thumb, she's finding ways to make herself feel better
without your help.

You don't have to stop your child from sucking her thumb right now. In
general, thumb-sucking is more irritating to parents than it is
harmful to kids. Your baby will stop when she's ready and has
developed other ways of soothing herself..."

Why Infants Suck Their Thumbs
..."My 6 month old has never taken a pacifier. I breast fed him for 4
1/2 months. Now, he is sucking his thumb. He really sucks it hard when
he is sleepy. I see him now sucking it sometimes when he is
comfortable and content sitting in his chair. How do I break this
habit? He cries when I snatch it out of his mouth. Will this pass?
Please say there is a cure. I do not want him developing buck-teeth
from thumb sucking. Help!!!

Infants are hard-wired to need and enjoy sucking as a separate
experience from feeding. In some infants this need is more pronounced
than in others. Infants tend to exhibit the sucking behavior most when
they are tired, bored, or in need of comfort. Some babies who do not
suck their thumbs can be comforted, stimulated, or put to sleep
through pacifier use. This is often more acceptable to parents since
they can control the use of pacifiers. The problem with pacifiers is
that young babies cannot find them when they fall out of their mouths,
which happens quite frequently. Babies who use pacifiers are dependent
on an adult who must understand their needs and respond to them.
Children who suck their thumbs are able to begin at an early age to
meet their own need for sucking. These children fall asleep more
easily, are able to put themselves back to sleep at night more easily,
and sleep through the night much earlier than infants who do not suck
their thumbs.

Many parents are worried that their children won't stop thumb sucking
at the appropriate age. The great majority of children stop thumb
sucking spontaneously as they get caught up in learning new skills and
no longer need to be stimulated or comforted by sucking. A study by
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton indicates that as many as 94% have finished
with sucking their thumbs by their first birthdays.

According to the American Dental Association, thumb sucking does not
cause permanent problems with the teeth or jaw line, unless it is
continued beyond four to five years of age. Many studies have looked
at the number of children who continue to suck their thumbs at this
time. As it turns out, somewhere between 85% to 99% of children have
finished thumb sucking spontaneously before this period (the numbers
vary depending on the study). Many parents are concerned that thumb
sucking at a late age is a sign of emotional immaturity or lack of
self-confidence. When investigators looked at this group for common
traits, they found that late thumb suckers had one thing in common
that distinguished them from other children -- a prolonged history of
a strong battle with thumb sucking at an earlier age. It is striking
that many well-meaning parents have actually encouraged this behavior
by trying to forcibly take the thumb out of their children's mouths.

For children in the first year of life, sucking to fall asleep or for
comfort is self-limiting and wonderful. If they are sucking their
thumbs simply because they are bored or are "zoned out," it is a good
idea to distract them by handing them something interesting to hold on
to, without even mentioning their thumbs. Until your son is old enough
to reason with, any pressure applied against thumb sucking will only
turn a natural developmental phase into an ingrained habit.

If your child has not spontaneously stopped thumb sucking by the time
he is talking, there are ways to actively encourage him to stop. Right
now, however, you do not need to be concerned about your child's
natural way of getting the stimulation and comfort he needs in an
independent and healthy way. If you find that the sight of his thumb
sucking bothers you, you might want to offer him a pacifier to use
until his sucking need diminishes at around 9 months..."


To try to stop this natural reflex, at this early of an age *could* be
harmful, but I'm not an expert, or a Doctor. For a professional
opinion, I advise asking your child's pediatrician. I think if you use
good old common sense, you'll make the right decision!

If I can be of further assistance, please don't hesitate to ask via
the "Clarification" feature.


baby sleep sucking
infant sucking reflex age
"infant sucking" development
sucking OR thumbsucking "break the habit" harmful

Clarification of Answer by cynthia-ga on 14 Apr 2006 02:47 PDT
I forgot to mention that I did find that 20-50% of children use a
pacifier or thumbsuck until age 3-4, but they don't differentiate
between sleeptime and daytime, so I didn't include it. If you'd like
me to look a bit more for those stats for you, I'm willing, just let
me know.
daz70r-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Child Psychology - Needing to suck to get to sleep
From: myoarin-ga on 13 Apr 2006 17:42 PDT
What "is obviously very stressful for her"?
Your trying to break her of the habit?!

Need any more?

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