Infant sucking habits may affect how baby talks

October 21, 2009

Pacifier, baby bottle or finger sucking may hamper a child's speech development if the habit goes on too long.

In a study that took place in Patagonia, Chile, researchers associated the persistence of these sucking habits with an increased risk of speech disorders in preschool children. The children were more likely to have difficulty producing certain word sounds and to simplify their pronunciation.

The results were published Wednesday, Oct. 21, in BMC Pediatrics, an online, open-access medical journal.

A team led by Clarita Barbosa from Corporacion de Rehabilitacion Club De Leones Cruz Del Sur conducted the study, along with collaborators from the University of Washington (UW) Multidisciplinary International Research Training (MIRT) Program in the School of Public Health, the Department of Epidemiology, and the Department of Global Health.

Looking at a group of 128 children age 3 years to 5 years, the researchers gathered parents' reports of each child's feeding and sucking behaviors during infancy and evaluated the child's speech. The researchers found that delaying giving a baby bottle until the child was at least 9 months old reduced the risk of later developing speech disorders, while children who sucked their fingers or who used a pacifier for more than 3 years were three times more likely to develop speech impediments.

"These results suggest extended sucking outside of breast-feeding may have detrimental effects on speech development in young children," according to Barbosa. This finding is particularly relevant, as the use of baby bottles and pacifiers has increased over the past few decades. However, Barbosa is careful to note, "Although results of this study provide further evidence for the benefits of longer duration of breast feeding of infants, they should be interpreted with caution as these data are observational."

Earlier studies by other researchers have suggested that babies', toddlers' and pre-schoolers' sucking habits may influence their mouth, jaw and dental anatomy. Previous research also has suggested that breast feeding may be beneficial to developing coordinated breathing, swallowing and speech articulation.
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In addition to Barbosa, other researchers on the study entitled "The Relationship of Bottle Feeding and Other Sucking Behaviors with Speech Disorder in Patagonian Preschoolers" were Sandra Vasquez, and Juan Carlos Velez Gonzales from Corporacion de Rehabilitacion Club De Leones Cruz Del Sur, Chile; and Mary A. Parada, Chanaye Jackson, N. David Yanez, Bizu Gelaye, and Annette L. Fitzpatrick, research associate professor of epidemiology, from the University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle.

The study was completed while Parada and Jackson were research training fellows with the MIRT Program. The MIRT Program is supported by an award from the National Institutes of Health, National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

University of Washington

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