The price of thumb sucking

Chilean and US health researchers have found that infants who use pacifiers, baby bottles or who suck their fingers or thumbs could be at higher risk of developing speech difficulties as they get older.

The team of researchers from Corporacion de Rehabilitacion Club De Leones Cruz del Sur in Patagonia and the University of Washington found in a study of 128 children between the ages of 3 and 5 that speech disorders were more likely in children with such prolonged sucking habits.

In a statement, the researchers said that delaying giving an infant a bottle until at least nine months reduced the risk of later developing speech difficulties. Children who sucked their fingers or were given pacifiers for more than three years were three times more likely to have difficulty pronouncing certain words when they entered preschool, they wrote.

"These results suggest extended sucking outside of breastfeeding may have detrimental effects on speech development in young children," said study author Clarita Barbosa, citing the increased use of bottles and pacifiers in recent decades.

The report also stated that the development of coordinated breathing, chewing, swallowing and speech articulation was associated with breastfeeding and that breastfeeding was thought to promote mobility, strength and posture of the speech organs.

However, Barbosa also noted that the results of the study should be interpreted with caution because the data was observational.

The study appeared October 21 in the journal BMC Pediatrics.
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