Ask Dr. Karp: Should I let my baby suck her thumb?

Ask Dr. Karp: Should I let my baby suck her thumb?

Ask Dr. Karp is a monthly Q & A series with world-renowned pediatrician Dr.


Q: My doctor told me I should swaddle my baby with her hands out so she can learn to self-soothe by sucking her thumb. Is that correct?


Dr. Karp: No, in fact, besides making newborns feel cuddled and safe, the key benefit of swaddling is to keep their arms at their side.

Babies need security much more than they need freedom, especially when they're sleeping. In the womb, babies are snugly surrounded by velvet soft walls that limit the movement of their arms. But once they're born, the world is too big for them! That's why they love to be cuddled in our arms and to be swaddled. Many studies show that swaddled babies have lower heart rates, a sign that they're calmer and less stressed.

Snug wrapping is most effective when the baby's arms are wrapped down at the side. That's because babies don't have much hand coordination in their first few months. Swaddling prevents the startles, flailing, "windmilling" of the arms, and accidental nose whacks that are so annoying to sleeping babies. (And, once your baby starts to cry, having her arms free will probably make her fuss even more!)

I recommend swaddling and playing a CD of rumbly white noise to help your baby learn to self-calm. When left alone in a quiet room, babies have a much greater need to suck. When they hear sounds and are wrapped, they feel calmer and less stressed, and have less need to suck. (And it's very easy to wean your baby from these two of the 5 S's later on.)

There's plenty of time for your little one to learn to suck her thumb when she is calm and unswaddled during the day. But remember, if thumb sucking becomes a habit it's almost impossible for you to stop later on, because your baby has full control over it.

If your baby loves to suck and needs it in addition to the other calming help, a pacifier is a better option than the thumb. Not only does a pacifier satisfy the need to suck, but you can take it away eventually, if it becomes a habit. Plus, pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS.

Three of America’s most popular parenting DVDs/books The Happiest Baby On The Block, The Happiest Toddler On The Block and The Happiest Baby Guide To Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years were created by Dr. Learn more of his landmark baby, toddler and sleep tips at and follow @HappiestBaby and @DrHarveyKarp on twitter and like us on Facebook.

Photo credit: BabyCenter

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

Watch the video: How to Soothe Baby with sucking (January 2022).

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