Mother and Baby

Dummy run: when is it right or wrong to use a pacifier?

Baby with dummy

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.” 

Read next: The best baby and toddler classes to try with your little one: 

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1. Dance classes,

Perfect for burning off some of your toddler’s endless energy, diddi dance classes use ribbons and hoops as props. Dance classes have a theme, which changes every 5-7 weeks, and includes salsa and 1920s Charleston – think jazz hands. 
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2. Dance classes,

Disco Duck are nationwide award-winning dance classes for pre-school boys and girls.  Designed by an ex professional dancer, dance teacher and choreographer, the classes have been developed to increase little one’s confidence, self-esteem, social skills, balance and concentration. The classes operate in a fun and safe environment and are attended every week by Disco Duck himself! There is also Disco Duck merchandise including a CD and stories, and parties which are really popular with parents and children. 
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3. Baby yoga classes,

If you love your downward dog or salute to the sun, you can take your baby along to YogaBellies classes, which includes baby massage, focused yoga postures for the mums, and poses for both you and your baby so you can bond with each other. They’re suitable for babies and toddlers and classes last one hour, which you book in blocks of six classes.
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4. Music classes,

Ok, so your singing voice may be a bit rusty (more reject than Rihanna wannabe), but that doesn’t matter in a Jo Jingles class. It offers music, singing and dance classes for babies and pre-school children from three months to four years. Expect plenty of tambourines and maracas (anything to drown out our singing…) 
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5. Baby massage classes,

A good class for newborns and very young babies, MamaBabyBliss massage can help sooth colic and wind, and encourage your baby to sleep, as well as building his digestive, circulatory and immune systems.
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6. Swimming classes,

Great for getting your baby used to the water from a young age, Waterbabies baby swimming classes also boost confidence and improve strength in your baby’s arms and legs. The sooner you start, the more used to the water your tot will be. 
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7. Language classes,

You’ll be surprised at how quickly your little one can pick up a foreign language (if you’ve ever watched your toddler parroting away to Dora the Explorer you’ll understand). Lingotot classes teach a range of languages including French, Spanish and even Chinese. 
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8. Ballet classes,

babyballet is a fun, award-winning pre-school dance class for girls and boys from 6 months to 6 years.  With a real focus on learning through play, babyballet, which runs across the UK, allows babies, toddlers and young children to enjoy the physical and social benefits of ballet, song and dance in a safe, caring, positive and informal environment. Little ones will build their confidence and social skills, while developing basic ballet technique, coordination, musicality, balance, posture and rhythm. babyballet’s fully qualified teachers are joined in class by the babyballet bears, Twinkle & Teddy, who help to encourage all the little stars to interact and share as they learn to dance without any pressure.  There is also a line of merchandise and parties available. 
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9. First aid classes,

If you’ve already gone into new mum anxious mode, checking smoke alarms and practising infant choking positions, sign up for a first aid class run by the National Childbirth Trust and the British Red Cross. The course covers health issues such as loss of consciousness, CPR, choking, bleeding, burns, high temperatures and meningitis. 
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10. Gym classes,

While we’re not expecting your pre-schooler to be doing back flips and triple flip twists quite yet, a Tumbletots class will encourage him to climb, jump, and roll while learning how to control movements more precisely. It uses soft play equipment for children to clamber over and under and it’s a great way to make friends.
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11. Cooking classes,

Encourage your toddler to help prepare food and he’s more likely to have a healthy relatonship with food. During each Kiddycook session the children have fun creating recipes, which encourages them to learn about good food and explore new flavours in a fun way. Its Cookie Tots classes are perfect for 2-4 year olds and after creating a dish, children then join in with music, games and activities based around preparing and enjoying food.
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12. Football classes,

If you can see your little one as the next Beckham or Rooney, sign up for a Little Kickers football class. They run a Little Kicks class for children aged 18 months to three years, and then you graduate to the next level – Junior Kickers which goes from 2 years to 3½ years. Classes will help your little one gain better body control and co-ordination skills. 
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13. Signing classes,

As well as being a fun way to connect with your baby or toddler, Sing and Sign classes can help your little one communicate with you before she starts speaking. She’ll learn words such as “milk”, “hot”, “thank you” and “more” but there’s also plenty of singing and games. 
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14. Arts and crafts classes,

If you’ve experienced the *joy* of peeling dried Play-Doh off the kitchen floor, you’ll appreciate the Creation Station. It offers arts and crafts classes for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers without the mess for you.