Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Saying Bye-Bye to that Pacifier and Finger Habit!

A Pacifier can be your child's first love. Your child's thumb or fingers can make any rough situation better. As parents we all know this and dislike the actual habit, but use it to our advantage as it soothes our kids and us! A five minute break from crying or screaming can make our lives so much more peaceful. This topic is something parents debate often before their child is even born.

Introducing a pacifier can lead to a quick solution for having a quiet, mellow household or shopping trip, but breaking the habit could be harder than expected.  Richard Powell, PhD, a pediatric neuropsychologist says babies are born with an innate need to suck.  Newborns rely on this "suck reflex" not only for sustenance but also for soothing. At this age, babies have no other mechanism to control their discomfort. Therefore, babies will suck and if not on a pacifier, then they tend to suck on fingers, thumb, bottles, etc. It is recommended for breastfeeing moms to introduce breast feeding first and make sure your baby has the hang of it then if needed he/she can be introduced to a pacifier. Though there are many opinions on whether to even start using a pacifier, experts agree that the use of pacifiers are suitable for soothing your baby.  However, it is recommended by most pediatric dentist to reduce pacifier time by age one and eliminate pacifier use by age two. Although there haven't been many proven pros to using pacifiers, one well known reason is it has been found in some studies that using a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). One con is the increased risk for ear infections. Researchers have linked pacifiers to this illness, however some researchers believe the ear infections can be linked to children using unclean pacifiers which leads to colds/congestion that can cause fluid in the ear. The con pediatric dentist see is the abnormality in a patient's bite. Pacifer use can cause a child to have an open bite (when the upper front teeth and lower front teeth do not touch) or cross bite (when the back top teeth don't extend out further than the lower back teeth when biting). There are pre-orthodontic appliances to correct the cross bite, but the only way to cprrect the open bite is to kick the habit early.  Problems, such as speech, chewing, appearance, can occur if the habit is not gone early (mostly by age 2-3). Here are some options to help get rid of the pacifier:

1) Cold turkey- pick a week or weekend that you as a parent can spare some extra sleep. Simply take away the pacifier. Your child may cry and demand the pacifier but stay strong and find other ways to sooth your child, a stuffed animal, blanket, etc.

2) Cut the end of the tip. This will create a diversion for the child trying to suck the nipple. If all pacifiers are cut, the child may forget about it and move on.

3) During a holiday let a special someone (Santa, Easter Bunny) take the pacifiers to give to other children that need them, or if a friend/relative is having a baby he/she can "pass" them down to the other child. Children tend to be giving!

If you notice your child beginning to suck their finger/thumb in place of the pacifier, it may be better to give them their pacifier back. It is easier to take away a pacifer then a thumb!!

Now, to tackle those with thumb/finger habits! As mentioned above it is very natural for a baby to suck their thumb, toes, pacifier, bottle, etc. This is a soothing habit. Unfortunately some children become very attached to the habit and it becomes extremely hard to quit. Most thumb/finger habit children that continue the habit after infancy tend to be aware of their habit and use it most during stessful times, when they are sleepy, or sometimes don't even know they are doing it all! One of the most common statements we get from parents is that their child has quit the habit except when they sleep. Parents say that their child is subconsciously sucking their thumb or fingers at night.  Most children do stop the habit on their own, but there are still several children that need assistance. Finger/thumb habits can cause the same tooth abnormalities as pacifiers (open bite, cross bite), but it can sometimes cause damage to the child's hands. There have been numerous reports of children developing calluses or sores on the fingers they are sucking. Some of these sores have led to staph or yeast infections, in one case a child had to have their thumb amputated. For those chldren who are still sucking their fingers at night while sleeping we recommend to parents to put a sock around the child's hand(s) and lightly tape it (or use an apparatus to keep the sock from being pulled off) around their wrist to see if that keeps the child from putting their fingers in their mouth. For children who suck their fingers/thumb during the day there are few recommendations. One is to try a reward system. Everytime the child is happy and calm and not sucking their fingers/thumb reward them with a small prize (ice cream, stickers, book). Try not to fuss child for sucking their fingers/thumb becausing causing stress or discomfort will cause the child to revert to sucking their thumb/finger. Next, you can buy Mavala Stop on amazon.com. It is a topical spray that leaves a horrible taste in the child's mouth therefore reminding the child not to put their fingers/thumb in their mouth. A last resort is a finger habit appliance from the dentist. It is a more expensive option and is only a reminder to children to stop sucking their thumb or fingers. It has guards that are suspended from a wire that fits into their mouth like a retainer. The guards help to create a barrier so the child cannot form a suction with their fingers or thumb in their mouth.

Whatever method you choose to kick either habits just remember to stay strong and weather the storm. It will most likely be bad for a few nights but it will get better. Giving in to negative behavior and demands will only encourage that kind of behavior. For questions/concerns remember you can always call PDS at 225-769-1969.