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Born to Thumb Suck?: October 1, 2013

An only child- little Grace is 2 1/2 years old. With no siblings to play with she’s always entertained herself from the day she was born.

“She started sucking her thumb pretty much as soon as she came out of the womb,” says her mom, Lisa Jacobs.

Doctors say many times the practice actually started before birth.

“If you’ve ever seen an MRI you can see the child is constantly putting their fingers in their mouth in the womb. So you’ve got a source of soothing, a source of being calm while you’re still in the womb. When we come out a lot of the kids still are doing that,” says Dr. Pierre Loredo, pediatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Perfectly natural but is it perfectly harmless? Thumb sucking stirs up a lot of anxiety for parents who will often try to replace the thumb with a pacifier. Only to find the swap may backfire.

“The pacifier falls out in the middle of the night, the child will want the pacifier back in. So you’re going to get some crying there. Whereas you have the thumb and the child could easily sooth themselves,” says Dr. Loredo.

Here’s a comforting thought for parents, the vast majority of kids, up to 94% stop thumb sucking by the time they turn one. The American Academy of Pediatrics finds children that continue past age 4, generally giving it up by pre-k.

“What we see with preschool is the kids are stimulated a lot. So they are using their hands much more frequently, so we see a dramatic drop,” says Dr. Loredo.

Grace pulled the plug in her own time.

“Apparently when her two-year-old molars came in, that’s what stopped it. I don’t know if it was the pain from that or the shift in the teeth, but it seemed like overnight she stopped sucking her thumb,” says Jacobs.

Worrying aside, most kids know when to give the thumbs up.