Many children begin their ‘sucking’ journey in utero. Suckling is a natural reflex that infants are born with, essential to their survival. It is part of the Suck, Swallow Breathing mechanism, which develops in infancy during feeding and is responsible for supporting and developing many human functions and behaviors. These include posture and motor development, visual motor skills and development, speech and language development, and social/emotional development.
Many babies enjoy a dummy or thumb to self soothe when they are upset or tired. Just behind the top front teeth, there is a nerve and blood supply. This specific area is stimulated upon thumb, finger, or dummy sucking. Studies show that when this happens, neurotransmissions reduce in the brain as hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are released. These hormones induce a sense of calm, comfort, and relaxation. You can also buy thumb sucking guard if you want to stop thumb-sucking habits of your child.
As they get older, many children continue to suck fingers and thumbs, toys, blankets, pens and pencils, hair and clothes to stay alert, to focus attention as well as to keep calm and self soothe.
This is known as non-nutritive sucking (not to be confused with the important ‘oral exploration’ stage of infancy from birth to two years). If the child hasn’t stopped by the age of four, it has become a habit. And despite negative feedback from Mum, Dad, Aunty Jill, or perfect-stranger-in-the-street; there is often a mood-enhancing, hormonal pay-off for the child that far outweighs the most disapproving reactions. Also, in many children, the continued sucking could be a result of an underdeveloped Suck Swallow Breath mechanism.