Thumb sucking and other sources of comfort

Before Harley was born, people asked me if I would want her to use a dummy/pacifier or suck her thumb. I wasn’t too worried about it – I figured if she liked a dummy she could use that, if she liked her thumb she could suck that, and whatever happened happened. Then she ended up in the NICU and she had to use a dummy to improve her sucking reflex. That didn’t last long once she was out of there, but she didn’t seem to interested in sucking on anything other than boob, and even that was just for food and then she’d unlatch herself.

Lately, though, she’s been discovering that she can suck her thumb. She hasn’t quite picked a preferred hand, using whichever thumb happens to find it’s way into her mouth. It’s a noisy endeavor, too, as she talks and murmurs around her thumb while sucking, making bizarre sounds but seemingly having fun. I’m not sure if it just feels good while teething, or is generally nice for soothing herself, but I’m endlessly amused to watch her figure this out. Plus, I’m happy that she’s found a source of comfort for herself. 

When I was little, I used to suck three fingers on my left hand. Not one at a time, all at once – index, middle and ring finger were a wonderful fit in my mouth. That was with my left hand. With my right hand, I would rub the silky label on a favorite toy to make sound. I called it yo-yo-ing. For years, I would suck my fingers and yo-yo. It was how I went to sleep, and as I got older, I’d even do it while reading or playing games. Eventually, I was too old for it to continue; my dentist said it was messing up my teeth and my mom had a talk with me about not doing it anymore. I remember it being hard to stop sucking on my fingers, but I could still yo-yo and all was still right in the world.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve obviously stopped always having a toy with me. I still find myself, though, with certain clothes made of that material, yo-yo-ing in traffic or while sitting on the couch. I’m not even aware of it, but suddenly I’m playing with a ribbon or section of a top, enjoying that wonderfully familiar feeling. I’ve talked to other people who on particularly hard days find themselves sucking their thumbs while driving, who still have their security blankets tucked away at the top of their bedroom closets.

Some people warn me not to let Harley suck her thumb with the idea being that while you can take away a dummy/pacifier, you can’t take away a thumb. While I understand the argument, I think it’s inherently flawed. The reality is, we all need to find way of soothing ourselves. What’s a source of comfort as we grow into adulthood? Cuddles with loved ones, time spent in our own heads zoning out, and for many of us, something food related like a warm curry or that delicious slab of chocolate.

I’m happy that Harley is finding her way of getting comfort when she needs it. It’s interesting to watch the process in action, and to know that this is the start of her finding her own way, her independence – me and my boobs won’t always be first place to turn, and seeing her learn how to sooth herself is really intriguing. Just remind me of this in a few years time when I have to have the talk with her about stopping because it’s ruining her teeth.


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