15 Reasons Thumb-Sucking Might Actually Be Beneficial for Toddlers

Thumb sucking is a perfectly natural thing for a baby – and a toddler – to do. The medical community is a little split over this issue, but one thing we are definitely sure of is that when a child sucks too hard on their thumb, it can cause lasting damage on their teeth.

There are, however, some benefits to thumb sucking – or at least, there are reasons why it might not be such a terrible thing. As long as a child is thumb sucking at the age of a toddler, it can have positive effects on their life. Let’s take a look at some of those possible benefits.

It teaches how to eat from an early age

Thumb sucking is something that a fetus does in the womb. It’s completely natural and it comes as a result of human instinct. While the intention is obviously not to eat the thumb, the act of sucking on the thumb allows a baby to discover how their mouth and tongue work. At a stage when they aren’t eating solid food, this gives them important practice and teaches them the function of the tongue, teeth and lips from an early age.

Thumb sucking as a toddler serves this same purpose, as a baby moves on from milk to solid food.

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It’s comforting

Just like adults like to curl up in the fetal position in bed, babies like to suck their thumb. These actions that we perform in the womb are solidified in our minds as something comforting and they become a habit.

Sure, it’s important that a toddler learns to comfort his or herself without doing this one day, but at this age, it’s not really the biggest thing to worry about. Most people quickly begin finding other ways to comfort themselves.

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It’s a sucking reflex for breastfeeding

For young children, sucking the thumb helps them stay capable of breast feeding. The sucking motion is necessary in order to drink from a bottle, too, making this an essential part of learning for a baby. This is the reason why a baby does this in the womb. So, don’t worry too much about thumb sucking. It’s merely a habit formed in the womb designed as a survival mechanism.

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It can help organize their biorhythm

One surprising effect that thumb sucking has is its ability to organize a disorganized biorhythm. If you haven’t heard of the term, a biorhythm is a recurring cycle in the body, relating to mental, emotional and physical activity. Specifically, thumb sucking can help organize a toddler’s sleeping schedule, as well as other emotional biorhythms, making it actually quite an important thing for them to do.

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It lowers their risk of developing allergies

Recent studies have suggested that thumb-sucking could actually reduce a child’s likelihood of developing certain allergies. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics discusses a study done at the University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand by Bob Hancox.

Hancox explains that the study suggests that a reduced exposure to bacteria, by not sucking the thumb, could mean that a child is more likely to develop certain allergies in older age. The study suggests they could be up to 30% more likely to develop allergies.

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Exposure to bacteria is good for the immune system

Following the same line of logic, it’s thought that early exposure to bacteria by thumb sucking could actually help a child develop an immune system. It’s for this reason that many parents will discuss the merit of letting their children play in the mud.

Allowing a toddler to come into contact with bacteria will help them build up immunity and become healthier over time. By stopping your child from sucking their thumb from an early age, you can be limiting their immune system early on.

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It may help in social situations

Toddlers can be notoriously tricky when they’re unhappy about something in a social situation. If you’re out in public and you’re having difficulty with your toddler, sometimes there is no reasoning with them. Letting a child suck their thumb in this kind of situation is often the best way to keep them calm and collected while you leave the public space to try and solve the problem privately.

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It improves emotional stability

Obviously sucking a thumb is calming and relaxing for a child, but this impact goes beyond simply keeping a toddler happy. In fact, thumb sucking can be a good thing for a child’s emotional stability.

Babies and toddlers who suck their thumbs when they feel sad or worried are showing an amazing ability to form a habit that helps them cope with their emotions. This is an early coping mechanism that can help them form different habits with the same effect in later life. It’s pretty amazing, really!

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It teaches toddlers to de-stress

When you take away a pacifier from a toddler, you are taking away their ability to make a choice. You obviously can’t take away a toddler’s thumb, and so by letting them suck their thumb and come to their own decision about stopping sucking it, you are helping your child learn to de-stress on their own terms.

Eventually your toddler will realize that other things have the same effect as thumb sucking and their habits will change, and it will be all their own doing.

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It makes night times easier

Let’s face it – trying to get a toddler to fall asleep is not an easy task, unless they’ve had a super busy day of running around and playing. For this reason, it’s important to let a toddler relax on their own terms, and that might mean letting them suck their thumb. If it helps your child feel comfortable and relax, then that’s not something to turn your nose up at. It makes night times much easier!

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It has the potential to increase nervous activity in the orvicularis oris (smile) muscle

Studies have also shown that thumb sucking in young children helps increase the amount of nervous activity in the orvicularis oris muscle. This muscle is basically responsible for smiling and the movement of the cheeks and lips, meaning it can have an effect on a child’s ability to speak and communicate.

By stopping a child from thumb sucking, you could be damaging the progress and development of these muscles, so remember not to be too harsh over it!

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It improves flexibility of pterygoid muscles

The pterygoid muscles are the muscles that control the jaw. The development of these muscles is reliant partly on suckling at birth and even the sucking of the thumb at early age. Much like how thumb sucking can affect development of the orvicularis oris muscle, it can do the same for the pterygoid muscles. For this reason, it’s important to let a child do what they feel is natural and right to help ensure that their jaw muscles function properly in older age.

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It reduces their chance of developing jaw tension

As per the previous point, a child could in fact develop jaw tension as they get older. Jaw tension is a result of an underdeveloped or damaged muscle which makes it difficult to use the jaw as efficiently as normal. This not only affects eating, it can actually affect the way a child talks, causing speech impediments and slow speech development.

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It helps teach self-control

Learning to stop sucking a thumb can be better than being forced to stop. From an early age a child may want to do things that their parents tell them not to, making some things a challenge for their ‘rebellious’ side. Letting a toddler come to their own decision about stopping sucking their thumb – even with a little gentle push from mom or dad – can help them learn self-control from an early age, so it’s well worth giving it a try.

Consider talking to your toddler about how only babies suck their thumbs. They may come to the conclusion that if they want to be a ‘big’ boy or girl, then they have to stop sucking their thumb.

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It’ll save you money!

Okay so this probably isn’t the reason you would want to let your child keep sucking their thumb, but let’s face it – it’s cheaper than buying new pacifiers all the time!

In all seriousness, it’s worth considering these potential benefits of thumb sucking for your toddler. Just make sure they’re not doing it into their later childhood!

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