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15 Surprising Truths About What Self-Soothing Is And Isn't

Parents spend too much time riding the very fine line between worry and relief. From the time a child is born, and sometimes even before, they await, with cat-like reflexes, for the very next parenting crisis. Every decision seems like a momentous one at the time, no matter how small. Take a deep breath, it’s going to be okay.

Caregivers want to comfort their babies and children when they’re upset, but they’re also proud as punch when little Mikey is finally able to soothe himself back to sleep without a 25 minute back rub at 2AM.

So much of infanthood and toddlerhood involves giving or helping babies acquire tools to help them self-soothe, and then seemingly, just a few months later, as they transition from infancy into toddlerhood, there is this intense internal and external pressure to take away a child’s trusted binky or break them of their heinous thumb-sucking habit. Many of these decisions are made because someone, somewhere has determined “it’s time.”

The mixed messages parents receive about what they should do for their babies and toddlers to help them grow up to be successful is exhausting and annoying. Will an extra month, day, or year with a soother prevent a child from growing up to be a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted adult? Probably not.

Just the same: pacifiers, thumb-sucking, and self-soothing remain hotly debated parental topics when for the most part all parents need are some facts to help guide their decisions instead of receiving unwarranted opinions and judgements.

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15 Thumbsuckers Might Have Better Allergy Immunity

When a child is still sucking their thumbs well into pre-school, and beyond, that’s when parents really begin to worry. Will they be made fun of, what about their grown up teeth and the dentist? While a thumb-sucking child may spend more time at the dentist, they’ll likely spend far less time at the allergist.

A recent study revealed that because of the bacteria picked up by children who routinely suck their thumbs (or bite their nails) when they are 5, 7, 9, and 11 years old, they will be less likely to develop asthma or hay fever or have a reaction to common allergen triggers such as dust mites, pet fur, and grass when they are older.

This study provides evidence to support the “hygiene hypothesis” suggesting that children who grow up in extremely clean homes aren’t exposed to the types of germs that will help strengthen their immune systems. So on the days parents are taking their thumb-sucking 8-year-old to the dentist, they can take some relief in the fact they can skip on the dusting this week.

14 Tough Love Doesn't work

Self-soothing gets a bad rap. It is often associated with “tough love,” and leaving an inconsolable baby to deal with sleep and calming all by themselves. It has been compared with aspects of neglect, or a parent ignoring their child, when this really isn’t the purpose or intent of teaching a child to self-sooth. Maybe this picture is painted unfairly by people who reject the idea of infants benefitting from being afforded the option of comforting themselves.

Self-soothing is when a parent encourages their child to calm themselves, and it doesn’t involve forcing them to do so. This is a monitored, thoughtful, and mindful process, during which the parent helps their child develop the coping skills they need to calm themselves down and gain some independence.

This can serve a child well during bedtime, or in their everyday lives, and can be as simple is waiting, watching, observing, and giving an infant just a moment or two to find their thumb, blanket or binky on their own.

13 Getting A Baby To Self-Soothe

By 6 months of age experts agree that a child should be capable of self-soothing, which is why many believe that the ages of 4-7 months is ideal to begin working on getting a child to begin the practice of calming themselves down. A child’s sleep patterns have begun to mature and the baby is still too young to have formed strong sleep associations (i.e. falling asleep in mommy’s arms every night).

Why is it important to get your child to self-soothe? Because children who are able to self-soothe will generally sleep better compared with those who can’t. This means when a child who is capable of self-soothing wakes up in the middle of the night at a time that is different than their usual feeding, they will be better equipped to fall back asleep without a parental assist.

Most parents will find this skill handy as the first few weeks are full of sleep deprived nights and days that blend together.

12 Think About The Child's Needs

Sooner or later a baby will need to learn to put themselves to sleep. Of course it is a parent’s job to help comfort, soothe, and care for their child, no one is debating this, however, sleep is important for everyone in the family, and once a child knows how to self-soothe everyone involved will log more zzz’s.

While many parents believe they are helping their child by continuously allowing them to fall asleep in their arms, take a moment to think about what it would feel like to be resting in your parent’s arms one moment and then to wake up in a completely different place, alone. It’s pretty scary.

If a child knows that they are being put into bed, and partially awakens in the exact same environment chances are they’ll be more likely to settle on their own and fall back to sleep with a little practice.

11 Help The Baby Learn To Self-Soothe

Fingers and toes are usually the preferred “tools” for self-soothing for babies since they’re readily available and attached, so a child, no matter how small won’t lose track of them. Parents can provide their child “easy access” to their fingers by weaning them from a swaddle at night.

The purchase of a few sleep sacks can allow baby to stay warm, and free their hands to begin self-soothing. For parents who are rocking their children all the way to sleep, a baby-step to independent sleep could be putting them down at nap time -- sleepy but not asleep. And gradually reduce the time you spend before rocking and cuddling from 10 minutes down to five, and so on.

Try to give it a few minutes of fussing or crying before rushing in to scoop up a baby to allow them time to learn to settle on their own. Try not to wait too long before teaching your child to self-soothe. A 2002 study revealed that babies who had not learned to self-soothe by age 1 were more likely to have trouble falling asleep at age 2, and more likely to wake-up throughout the night at age 4.

10 Newborns Can’t Self-Soothe

The first few months of a child’s life is often referred to as the fourth trimester, a time where an infant tries to adjust to the new world it has been thrust into. This is a time where parents are a huge factor in calming down a child and helping them regulate their emotions. Infants are not born knowing how to self-soothe. This is a skill they need to develop, gradually over time.

In the meantime the grown-ups need to step in to rock, cuddle, comfort, feed, and generally troubleshoot what’s bugging the baby. The body isn’t the only thing that is growing with a young baby,  their brain also grows at a fast pace and quite quickly too.

There is no precise age where experts agree a child is capable of self-soothing. However a child should not be expected to do so before they are 3 months old (hence the fourth trimester title) when a child is still quite literally attached to their mom.

9 Babies Are Born Sucking Their Thumbs

Some begin in the womb, others shortly after they are born, so thumb sucking is a natural thing for babies. Sucking is a natural reflex for infants to allow them to eat, so a child who is sucking their thumb is simply practicing “non-nutritive” sucking which can really help to calm them down, yet still many people cringe at the thought of their child sucking their thumb.

This natural soothing object is always “on hand” for a child to reach for when they need some comfort. A very small baby is able to find their own thumb, whereas mom or dad could be stuck with a big part of the night spent searching under a crib for a lost or misplaced soother.

Some parents prefer to break the thumb habit early, and replace the thumb with a soother, since when it’s time they will be able to easily take the pacifier away from their child.

8 Thumbsuckers Could Mean High Dental Bills

This “feel good” coping strategy many psychologists believe mimics the calming effects of breastfeeding. Many children, as they age, will suck their thumbs when they are feeling stressed, upset, hungry, or even bored. Still once a child reaches preschool many parents begin to panic if their child is still relying on their thumb for comfort.

The majority of children will quit sucking their thumbs on their own sometime between the ages of 2 and 4. While a lot of parents, and dentists, worry about the impact thumb-sucking will have on teeth, it usually isn’t problematic until a child begins to get their adult teeth.

Once permanent teeth begin to come in, usually at around age 6 or 7, thumb sucking can lead to dental problems since the force of the thumb in the mouth can push top teeth forward and cause some jaw issues. This can be corrected through orthodontics.

7 Times To Pass On The Pacifier

If a child is prone to ear infections it might be worth skipping time with a soother. The use of a pacifier may increase the risk of middle ear infections in infants and toddlers. It’s believed that the chances of ear infections in younger babies is smaller.

Some parents may want to consider using a pacifier until their child is around 6 months old, during the time before the introduction of solid food and when the need to suck for comfort is at its greatest, and then weaning them off.

For parents who are having a tough time getting the hang of nursing, you may have been told that soothers may cause nipple confusion and will interfere with breastfeeding success.

Take note this research is conflicting, and there aren’t any current studies that definitively show that the binky and trouble breastfeeding are even related. Some parents decide it’s best to wait until your child has mastered nursing before offering up a binky to ensure a solid milk supply.

6 Soother Don’ts For Parents

Soothers get a lot of wear and tear, particularly when they’re being used for months at a time. There are certain things that will increase the life of a soother and keep them healthier for baby. Keep the soother clean by routinely washing it with warm water, and throw it out when it begins to show signs of cracks, holes, or other damage.

Many parents will clean off a pacifier in their own mouth. Don’t do this! The American Dental Association warns adult saliva has bacteria that can cause cavities in a baby’s teeth, even before they emerge from the child’s gums. This can be responsible for aches and pains for children who are prone to have poor dental health.

Another don’t is dipping a child’s binkie into juice or sugar water, because this may also lead to cavities. If a child is having difficulty putting on weight some health care practitioners will suggest skipping the soother to encourage the child to eat more.

5 What To Look For In A Soother

The best bet is to look for a silicone soother over a latex one, and an orthodontic one would be best. They are sturdier, don’t retain odors, and are dishwasher safe as long as you clean them on the top shelf. The plastic shields below the soother should always have ventilation holes.

The option of a soother with a ring versus one that is more “button” shaped on the back is completely up to the parent. The ring handles are easier for a parent to grab when tossed on the floor by an enthusiastic toddler.

However the button handled ones are usually easier for baby to grasp. For those unsure as to whether or not soother use is normal, a sizeable 1999 study showed that two thirds of mothers used a soother with their children at some point during their infancy. So don't feel like an outcast for using a soother with your baby.

4 How To Get My Child To Give Up Their Pacifier

Some people say the best way to get rid of a soother is to act quickly, before your child has the words to express their displeasure, or remember their time with their favorite binky. Many favor the idea of getting rid of the pacifier cold turkey, and mentally preparing themselves for some whining and fussing for the first few days post-removal.

Other parents (with older kids) have found that it helps to put something (safe) on the soother that tastes bad to discourage the child from using it, although some experts think this practice is mean. Others prefer a slower, kinder transition where they first only allow the soother for naps and bedtime, then just bedtime, and then get rid of it all together.

Some parents will offer a present or milestone occasion, like a third birthday, to give the child a deadline to break their bond with binky. Again, there are no right and wrong answers here. It depends on the child.

3 How To Get A Child To Stop Sucking Their Thumb

When a child is getting older and parents begin to worry about the damage being caused by thumb sucking to the jaw, mouth and teeth things can get tense, particularly since the child is clearly coping with stressful situations by sucking their thumb. It might begin to feel like a vicious cycle.

First begin by explaining to your child that this is an activity for just nap and overnight. This will begin to limit the time spent with the thumb in the mouth, and encourage other coping skills during the day.

Experts suggest reminding their child when they are sucking their thumb, as they may not even be aware of it and will begin to correct themselves. Those who have concerns can talk to their doctors or dentists about mouth guards that may protect the jaw and mouth from the damage from thumb sucking.

However it is important to remember that a child will outgrow this, and won’t be going to high school with a thumb in their mouth.

2 It’s REALLY Not A Big Deal

As a parent it’s easy to focus on the now and not see the big picture. If a child is upset that their dad took away his binky because he turned 3 this week, odds are this child will be over it in a matter of days or weeks. Kids grow up and overcome habits like thumb sucking on their own, and are sometimes better off without the interference of their parents.

With my own kids I remember wishing they would sleep through the night, then wishing they would talk, walk, and go to school sooner. Recently when I cleaned out the bottom of a junk drawer I took a look at a long forgotten soother with a sigh and a smile for time that has long passed.

They will grow up, they will stop their habits, so for now take a deep breath and enjoy it. With or without a parent stressing over little things, the kids will still grow up, just breathe and enjoy it, after all college graduation is just around the corner!

1 A Soother May Reduce The Risk Of SIDS

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (more commonly referred to as SIDS) occurs when a seemingly healthy baby who is less than one-year old dies in their sleep because they suddenly stop breathing. Most SIDS deaths occur when a child is between the age of 2 and 4 months in age, with an increase in incident during colder weather.

Worrying about SIDS plagues many parents of young children, leading to even more sleepless nights. There is however some interesting news surrounding the use of soothers for more than just calming a colicky infant in the evening.

A study assessing information collected between 1997 and 2000, where 185 mothers of SIDS babies, and 312 mothers of a control group of infants suggests that the use of pacifiers by infants during sleep reduced the chances of a baby suffering from SIDS by 90 percent.

The use of a soother also helps combat the increased risk for babies who are stomach sleepers or are laying on soft bedding, who have a considerably higher risk of SIDS.

Resources: Babycenter, Forbes, Sleeping Baby, Scientific Amercian

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