Everyone has an opinion about dummies. We sift the fact from the fiction when it comes to using comforters, looking at the latest research and asking the experts for their opinions so you can make the right decision for you and your baby or toddler.
The latest research says…
Pacifiers and soothers in some form have been used for thousands of years, but in recent years they have been implicated in a number of health problems. The British Dental Health Foundation advises against using dummies because they can cause problems with tooth development. And according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, pacifiers may influence the shape of the mouth and produce crooked teeth, as well as lead to ear infections.
And a 2015 study showed toddlers who sucked dummies, or their thumbs, also had a greater risk of delayed speech development.
But there are advocates of the dummy. Since 2005, a number of studies have shown they can have a protective effect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – though just how they do this remains unclear. SIDS charity The Lullaby Trust recommends using an orthodontic dummy when putting a baby down to sleep but advises to wait until after breastfeeding is established and not to use one in the day. All the researchers agree that children should be weaned off dummies by 6-12 months.
And ever wondered how you should clean your child’s dummy? You might want to refer to a 2014 study by Cambridge University and University College London, which suggests it’s best to suck a dummy before giving it to your child, rather than washing it. This is because it “encourages better bacterial development in the mouth and gut” and could reduce the chances of your child developing eczema and asthma.
The parenting coach says…
Parenting expert and founder of Yes Parenting Bea Marshall suggests dummies can be an “absolute life-saver” when a baby continually cries, but they need to be used wisely.
“As long as you've already taken care of your baby’s basic needs – hunger, thirst, dirty nappy, warmth, and over or under stimulation – using a dummy to comfort as an addition to your own physical and verbal comfort can be a positive tool,” says Bea. “They become problematic when they are your first port of call when your baby expresses upset or discomfort.
“Our children need to be able to communicate with us and when we pacify their attempts we create a negative relationship pattern with them. Crying is important: it is your baby's way of communicating and your toddler's way of saying that the feelings they have are too big for them to describe in words. Crying also plays an important role in clearing out stress chemicals and regaining balance. The first response to your child's upset should always be physical comfort in your arms and with your voice. Keep an eye on whether the dummy is becoming more of a habit for you rather than a habit for your child.”
The maternity nurse says…
Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert, always recommends dummy usage in the early days to establish a routine and calm baby as and when needed.
“Dummies help to calm and prevent overtiredness, and are a good way to determine if your baby is genuinely hungry. If you don't use a dummy and just offer milk from the bottle or breast every time they root around and are unsettled, it can cause wind and colic issues and lead to a snack feeding cycle,” says Lisa. “I encourage parents to have one available just in case it's needed in those early weeks, but not to religiously give it to their baby for naps and sleep. It's best to only use it as and when they are struggling to settle.”
The sleep expert says…
“My advice is to use them sparingly and ditch them as soon as possible,” says Dee Booth from Sleep Fairy & Parent Rescue. “Dummies can be good for niggley, unhappy babies who struggle with wind, colic or reflux and won't settle. Equally, they can help hungry or sucky babies who want to feed constantly and mum is totally exhausted and needing a break. But they are best used only for sleep, and not at any other times, so babies don't rely on them to keep them calm all the time.”
How to wean your toddler off their dummy
You’ve given your baby a dummy…now, how do you help them give it up?
- Use it sparingly: Use it now and again and it will be easier to know when and why your child specifically needs their dummy, and it won’t be as difficult to reduce usage gradually over a couple of weeks. Let them have it just for naps and at night for a few weeks, then every other night before removing completely after 3-4 weeks.
- Take it out once they’re happy: “If baby does need to suck on it to calm them, remove it as soon as you can that night to help them learn to fall asleep independently without always needing a prop,” says maternity nurse Lisa.
- Read a book: With toddlers, find a good book about giving up dummies and read through it with your child so they get used to the idea and you can talk about it.
- Distract: Once the dummy has gone, find ways to distract your child once that ‘dummy moment’ comes along. Give a cuddle, a walk or play a game to take their mind off it.
- Leave it to them: When was the last time you saw a child at school with a dummy? Chances are your child will know when it’s right to stop. “Children wean from things when they are ready. It’s not up to us, as parents, to decide when our child is ready,” says Bea Marshall. “Focus on meeting your child's need for comfort and being heard from their very first days rather than reaching for the dummy automatically. By focusing on connection and, as they get older, talking to them about feelings, we equip them to feel more confident with big emotions.”
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