What would happen if every time you caught your baby with their fingers in their mouth, you removed their fingers with a firm “No”?
You may be thinking, “Why not just let them have their fun? What’s the harm if they’re sucking on their fingers? Babies like this; let them be!”
The “Eeeuuu!” Factor
From a non-medical standpoint, there’s the issue of unsightliness. When babies suck or munch on their fingers, invariably this causes saliva to drool out.
When the baby removes her fingers, they glisten with a fresh coat of saliva. This has that “Eeeuuu!” factor to it.
Of course, the solution is DON’T look if it makes you queasy. However, there’s a second issue: physical contact with the “grossed out” adult (or older child). They won’t want to hold this baby.
I’ll admit, I fell into that category when my niece was four. She frequently had her thumb in her mouth.
When it was out it looked raw and wet. Anyone who picked her up risked getting that wet yucky thumb on their skin. There’s always the adult out there who’ll be very cognizant of this.
Gateway to Nail Biting?
If babies, toddlers and preschoolers are permitted to suck on their fingers or have their fingers in their mouth in any shape, way or form, might this pave the way to nail biting?
There are no studies on this, but it’s fair wonder if all very young nail biters started out with sucking on their fingertips or whole fingers.
It’s easy to imagine that sucking on a digit can then escalate to nibbling at the fingertip and then eventually biting at the nail.
Unbreakable Thumb Sucking
My niece was still sucking her thumb at age seven! My sister-in-law said she had tried everything to stop this habit.
It finally stopped after the girl fell off some monkey bars and broke her arm.
Her baby sister frequently has three fingers in her mouth. I see this all the time with other babies and toddlers in public.
Meanwhile, there are parents who find this unsightly and will not permit it in their own children. Who’s right?
Should Parents Pull the Fingers Out of Their Baby’s Sucking Mouth?
“Babies and toddlers should not be asked to remove their fingers from their mouth,” says Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, a board certified pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of “Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.”
“Babies and toddlers like to console themselves and also reduce symptoms of teething by putting their fingers in their mouths.
“Yes, they can pick up illnesses more easily this way. The hands should be kept washed regularly, but not excessively.
“A good alternative to telling children, ‘Take your hands out of your mouth,’ would be to offer a safe toy they can chew on or a pacifier.
“But asking them (repeatedly!) to take their hands out of their mouth will cause them to think about it more, and likely increase the behavior.
“At a young age, the baby and toddler brain is not ready to correct a self-nurturing behavior that is involuntarily present.
“When children enter preschool, they often naturally stop the behavior. Their impulse to explore with their mouth is reduced, and they naturally note that their peers are not putting their hands in their mouth.”
Finger Sucking vs. Thumb Sucking and Nail Biting
The New York State Dental Journal has a report titled, “When children put their fingers in their mouths. Should parents and dentists care?”
“We have heard mothers tell their children not to stick their fingers in their mouths because they will get sick,” states the report’s abstract.
“Medical and dental professionals know this is true. Oral habits like thumb sucking and nail biting can damage the structure of the mouth and can lead to the spread of infectious diseases.”
If your baby, toddler or preschooler seems to suck on their fingers more often than is necessary, and especially if it’s accompanied by a lot of drool that turns your stomach, it’s best to consult with your pediatrician and the child’s dentist before you take any actions to extinguish the habit.
Dr. Lewis has been a practicing pediatrician for over 20 years. She completed her pediatrics residency at Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Scott and White Memorial Hospital where she served as chief resident.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.