Thumb sucking adults

  1. I have to say, this is the first time I've seen this in an adult. I recently took care of a G3P2 at time of delivery and immediately after. She was in her mid 20's and was sucking her thumb and cuddling a lovie up to her face. When I got report from the nurse going off shift, I almost didn't believe her when she told me that this patient sucks her thumb. Until I saw it for myself while doing a post delivery fundal check.

    Yep, sucking her thumb, with a lovie (blanket scrap) right next to her face. I'm guessing she has some possible childhood issues to work on. PMH includes being in foster care, but no notations of childhood abuse.

    I felt so bad for her

    The off-going nurse had even said something to her about it, and the patient even admitted that her 4 yr old child teases her about it.
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    About RNLaborNurse4U

    Joined: Dec '02; Posts: 282; Likes: 79
    L&D RN
    Specialty: 10 year(s) of experience in L&D


  3. by   SmilingBluEyes
    Lots of reasons exist why adults do this......I will just say I think it's a coping method in most cases.

    A person who is stressed out and in pain may turn to infantile comfort mechanisms to cope. In this case, I would observe very closely how this person interacts with her newborn after he/she is born. Observe CLOSELY how bonding takes place, or not. Observe the family dynamic. If you feel the newborn is at risk in any way, then that is call for a social service consult. If the infant's cues are appropriately responded to and met by the parent(s), then try and not concern yourself too much.

    I hope this helps!
  4. by   night owl
    I've seen two older folk do this. One was a CNA I worked with who always sat in on report and sucked her thumb and the other is my daughter's friend who is a sophmore in HS. It's alittle shocking to see older people doing such an infantile thing, but if it helps them cope with whatever their issues may be, so be it. I feel sorry for them because it does look so inappropriate. They must have some very deep issues that they'd have to work through before they'd stopped.
  5. by   hypnotic_nurse
    Well, it's better than smoking or alcohol!

    If the person copes well otherwise (and it's not affecting their orthodontia), why not?
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    Quote from hypnotic_nurse
    Well, it's better than smoking or alcohol!

    If the person copes well otherwise (and it's not affecting their orthodontia), why not?
    That is what I was thinking. Or using food as a coping mechanism.

    People who bite their nails are pretty close to what people who suck their thumbs are doing.

    I remember in Lamaze class being told to focus on something while you are having a contraction. For me it was the IV pump - the sound. For a long time I would get a flash-back of labor pain when I first started working the floor and using IV pumps. That sound took me right back.

    I guess whatever helps focus your attention away from the pain is ok with me.

    <<We lost funding here locally for follow up public health nurse visits. The State of California is in deep trouble and deep debt . .. . and we still managed to hoodwink people into voting for the stem cell bill.>>

  7. by   Hairstylingnurse
    I sucked my thumb until I got braces at the age of 13. Then my orthodontist put spikes on my lower front teeth and boy did that break me. My mother always thought I did it for attention but she always said I was born sucking it and it was quiet swollen at birth.:chuckle But those spikes, truly more like nails really broke me of sucking my thumb and kept the top of my mouth sore and bloody at times.To this day I don't smoke or drink so maybe that was the trick as someone above mentioned.
  8. by   canoehead
    If she was in foster care you can bet there was abuse in her background. Just being separated from family and living with strangers would be traumatic, let alone the reason she had to go.
  9. by   Da Monk
    It's a T.O. Transitional object. Toddlers do it-rub something soft against their face. It's soothing. Reminds them of the softness of the mother's skin.
  10. by   abundantjoy07
    My cousin, who is 17 sucks her thumb as well. Her mom just never made her stop doing it when she was little and therefore, she does it to this very day. I asked her why she still does it and she told me it was just a habit. It's a much of a habit to her as breathing, eating, or taking a's just something you do. Of course, this is just her case. As you know everyone is unique.
  11. by   Mermaid4
    Well, never thought I would have a reason to admit this but I was born sucking my thumb, and my parents made such a fuss over it including painting my thumbs with some horrible stuff, that when it didn't work they just gave up..Still sometimes, when I wake up, although rarely, I find I have my thumb in my mouth. It just cracks me up when it happens but it does seem to be related to stressful times. I also never had braces or any problems with my teeth. Go figure...But, I think it is just one of those coping mechanisms some kids develop (*in my case, it apparently was in the wound and that was described as a compound presentation back then)....
  12. by   Mermaid4
    I always thought it was funny to describe sucking a thumb as infantile, when to me it looks much worse to have a ciggarette hanging out of your mouth, but thats just me. I also don't smoke or drink and never did, so maybe there is something to it!
  13. by   sherichance
    I have a female friend who is 26 and still does it. Yes it has alot to do with childhood and young adulthood issues. Issues from lack of love and emotion during child years, being sexually assaulted when she grew up.The sucking stopped at one point in her life but I guess she regressed after something happened.
    She is married now with a 3 year old. She told me she dreads the day her son asks her why she does it. Her husband doesnt even know about it. Yes people have said, seek couseling but honestly, she finds no need.
    It doesnt interfer with her life. It is embarrassing from what she tells me but its usually when something is going through her head or she is stressing. She finds it to relax her and calm her when needed.
    I feel bad for her and wish I could help her but we all have our own coping methods. Whether its smoking, nail biting, alcohol and so on. This one is just considered something that children do.
    I actually find it interesting and I dont judge her because of it. Now it may be another story when it interfers with the person. I find it bothersome if they do it in public where others can see. I dont know how I would handle that if I seen it.
    But like everyone said, its a way to cope.
  14. by   Gompers
    I have an ex-boyfriend who used to suck his thumb and had a baby blanket for comfort. His mother used him as a scapegoat when he was growing up, treating his brothers like princes and smacking him around at times. He was also the middle child. (Eventually I realized he had borderline personality disorder, but I'm not sure if that came out of his childhood trauma or if it was just biology.)

    Case in point: All three brothers had blankies that they used for comfort all their lives. My ex only had HALF a blankie though, because when they were little his younger brother lost his and the mom CUT my ex's blankie in half, to give some to the brother!!! He never got over it.