Mother and Baby

Ask Rachel: "Is it okay to give my baby a dummy?"

Section: Toddler

Is it okay to give a baby a dummy? 

Parenting expert Rachel Fitz-Desorgher is here to help with all your questions around pregnancy, babies and toddlers. This week she answers all your questions around dummies...

This month’s column takes a look at the subject of dummies. Babies are highly evolved to need lots of suckling - it keeps them in our arms safe and secure and out of the way of the dangers of the world. We can’t always suckle our babies as often or for as long as they need and so, for many centuries, mothers have looked for other ways to soothe their fractious babies. The first dummies as we know them appeared around 1900 but other soothers such as sugar-filled cloths were being used as far back as the 1500s.

The modern dummy has gone in and out of fashion and, possibly thanks the regular appearance of Maggie in “The Simpsons” through the early 1990s and 2000s, the current generation of parents appear to far more relaxed about their use than their own parents might have been.

But, as with all things, no sooner have we decided that a dummy is just the thing to calm our fretful baby at midnight, some well-meaning friend will assure us that we are setting our little one up for all manner of problems and that we need to whisk it away from our poor, colicky babe!

So here are some of the more common questions about dummies and some straightforward answers ...

Is it ok to give a newborn baby a dummy?

Yes! In fact, some special care units use dummies to comfort little and poorly babies whilst they are having tests or injections. Evidence shows that suckling eases pain and when a boob isn’t close at hand, a dummy will do nicely. If you are breastfeeding your baby then, unless you are separated from them for any reason, it is sensible to hold off from using a dummy until your body has properly worked out how much milk it needs to make, and this won’t be until about the 6-week mark. In any case, popping a baby on the boob brings peace so quickly that a dummy simply might not ever be part of your parenting style - they’re an option, not an essential.

If you’re bottle-feeding your baby then you will almost certainly need to use a dummy if your little one doesn’t thumb-suck as bottles just don’t provide enough sucking time for a young baby.

Read more: The best dummies for breastfed babies

Are dummies good for a baby?

There is no doubt that sucking is hugely soothing for babies whether it be a boob, a thumb or a dummy and it is also well-evidenced that sucking a dummy at nap and bedtimes is protective against SIDS. The reason seems to be that sucking a dummy keeps a baby in a slightly altered state of alertness similar to that of the baby suckling at the breast. If you are a boobling mum then a breast is more protective than a dummy overnight but if your baby is bottle-fed then a dummy can offer some protection that can’t be gained from the bottle.

Can babies sleep with a dummy?

Yes, they can. Don’t tie the dummy to the baby with strings or ribbons which could get tangled around your baby and never dip it in sugar or foods of any kind. By the time a baby is a year old, it is sensible to keep the dummy just for naps and bedtimes because, if it is in the mouth during wakeful times as your youngster starts to verbalise, it can make learning to speak tricky - not to mention that you might find it impossible to understand what your little one is trying to tell you!

It is fine for a child to continue to soothe off to sleep with their dummy until they are about 4 years old. After that, some dentists worry about wonky teeth although the evidence for this is a bit patchy. In any case, most children have ditched the dummy well before that and turned their attention to a teddy or cuddly blanket instead.

Read more: 5 ways to wean your child off their dummy

What are the pros and cons of using a dummy?

On the good side, dummies provide comfort and satisfy the deep need for frequent suckling that is a normal feature of all human babies. They appear to provide some protection against SIDS, particularly in the bottle-fed baby, and can help reduce pain and distress during painful procedures such as vaccinations.

They can give mum a break from constant rocking and soothing in the difficult evening hours and help a baby adjust to being with another carer for a short while if mum is going out. Finally, a dummy can help a baby to soothe off to sleep after a nice warm bath and a smoochy snuggle, allowing a tired parent to head off downstairs for some grown-up time!

The downside: Dummies need to be sterilised regularly to prevent infections such as oral thrush. They should be replaced every couple of months or sooner if they are damaged in any way at all and so, taking into consideration the sterilising and replacing of old dummies and those that get dropped out of pushchairs, or left at friends’ houses, a dummy habit will prove more expensive than a thumb.

There is some evidence that dummy use can lead to more ear infections although this might be more down to the fact that many dummy-suckers are also bottle-fed and bottle-feeding is well-known to increase the risk of ear infections. In the early weeks, dummy use can interfere with the frequency a baby suckles on the breast and this, in turn can affect milk supply, so it is smart to wait until at least 6 weeks before giving your boobled baby a dummy.

Finally and most importantly, dummies sometimes become an all-too-easy substitute for rocking, cuddling and snuggling and, despite what your friends and family might tell you, the very best and safest place for a baby to soothe is in arms. Far from creating bad habits, lots of time in arms protects against infections, builds trust and confidence, and is hugely important for bonding. So, if your baby is really crotchety, consider putting down the dummy and picking up the sling ... 

WATCH: Rachel explains how to wean your little one off a dummy: 

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  • Author: Rachel Fitz-Desorgher Rachel Fitz-Desorgher
  • Job Title: Baby and Parenting Expert & Mother's Mentor

Rachel Fitz-D is a baby and parenting expert and mother’s mentor. She has four grown-up sons and two grandchildren. 

Rachel hosts a Facebook Live on the M&B Facebook page, every third Monday of the month at 8pm. Make sure you've liked our page so you don't miss a notification! 

Rachel wrote a book called Your Baby Skin to Skin which you can buy on Amazon, now. 

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