Understanding Why Babies Suck During Sleep: Benefits and Insights

Every parent has likely noticed their baby occasionally sucking during sleep. This phenomenon may seem peculiar, but it's actually a normal and important aspect of a baby's development. Understanding why babies engage in this behavior can provide reassurance and insight into their growth and developmental milestones.

What is Non-nutritive Sucking?

Non-nutritive sucking (NNS) is the term used to describe when babies suck without drawing milk. This can occur when they are sucking on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, or even the air. NNS is distinct from nutritive sucking, which happens during feeding and is designed to extract milk from a breast or bottle.

Why Do Babies Suck During Sleep?

Research shows that non-nutritive sucking is a self-soothing technique that helps babies calm themselves. It is a natural reflex, known as the sucking reflex, that is present at birth and is crucial for feeding. Over time, babies learn to use this reflex not just for feeding but also for comfort.

1. Soothing and Calming

During sleep, babies often experience transitions between sleep cycles, which might cause them to wake up or feel restless. Sucking can help soothe and settle them back to sleep. The rhythmic sucking motion provides a calming effect, which is particularly useful in reducing discomfort or minor pain.

2. Helps in Sleep Transition

Babies, especially newborns, spend a lot of time in REM sleep, a lighter phase of sleep where dreaming occurs. During transitions from REM to deeper stages of sleep, babies may suck to help themselves settle into a more restful state without fully waking up.

3. Assist in Development

The act of sucking also contributes to physical and oral development. It helps strengthen the oral muscles and supports the healthy growth of the jaw and palate. This is crucial not only for feeding but also for future language development.

The Benefits of Non-nutritive Sucking

Beyond just providing a soothing mechanism, non-nutritive sucking has various benefits:

  • Enhanced security and bonding: Sucking often aids babies in feeling more secure and connected, especially when they use items scented with their mother's smell or even the mother's finger.
  • Pain relief: Studies have shown that NNS can be effective in reducing pain during minor procedures like vaccinations. The soothing effect helps to divert their attention and reduce their distress.
  • Better feeding habits: Babies who engage in non-nutritive sucking have been shown to have better feeding patterns and weight gain trajectories.
  • Improvement in self-regulation: By providing a mechanism for calming themselves, babies develop better self-regulation skills, which are important for emotional development.

How Parents Can Support Healthy Sucking Habits

While sucking is a natural reflex, there are ways parents can support healthy sucking habits:

  • Introduce a pacifier: A pacifier can serve as a proper tool for non-nutritive sucking. It's easier to control and eventually wean off than thumb-sucking.
  • Ensure cleanliness: Whether it’s a thumb, finger, or pacifier, it's essential to maintain cleanliness to prevent infections.
  • Monitor for signs of discomfort: If your baby seems to suck more frequently or appears uncomfortable during sucking, it may indicate an underlying issue like teething or an ear infection.
  • Choosing the right times for offering a pacifier: It’s beneficial to offer a pacifier during sleep time or when separation anxiety is expected, such as during doctor's visits.

Creating the Right Environment for Sleep

Creating a comfortable sleep environment is also crucial in promoting good sleep habits in babies. This involves ensuring the room is quiet, dark, and cool. One effective method of creating a dark environment is by using blackout curtains, such as those offered by Sleepout Home Blackout Curtains. These curtains are designed to block out light, helping to signal to your baby that it's sleep time, which can further support the natural sleep and sucking rhythms.

Blackout Curtains


Understanding why babies suck during sleep and recognizing the benefits it provides can help parents foster better sleep and development patterns for their babies. By supporting healthy sucking habits and creating a conducive sleep environment, parents can ensure their babies get the restful sleep they need for healthy growth and development.

Remember, each baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Observing and responding to your baby's specific needs will always be your best guide.

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