There’s often controversy surrounding dummies – some love, some hate; but, ultimately, it’s up to the parents to do what they think is best for their family. From a sleep perspective, if a dummy helps a tired baby (and, ultimately, a tired family!) then that’s great. Most of the time, if you offer a dummy on a few occasions, your baby will make the decision for you – but here are some pros and cons if you’re struggling to decide what to do.
Government guidelines suggest that giving your baby a dummy at the beginning of the night whilst they fall asleep can provide some protection against SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It is unclear exactly why this is the case, though.
There is some research that links dummy use with recurrent ear infections. However, this research certainly is not definitive and doesn’t support a clear link.
There is concern over the impact of dummy use on growing teeth, particularly if used beyond three years.
Dummy use during the day (i.e. not for sleep time) can inhibit speech development. I would always suggest that if your child is still using a dummy after six months, then restrict its use to sleep time and car journeys.
Some babies have a much higher need to suck than others. For these babies, a dummy can provide great comfort and can help breastfeeding mums to provide an alternative to comfort sucking on the breast if they wish.
Parents may find that the dummy provides useful comfort when they have to juggle a lot of things (for example, the needs of siblings), and so Baby has to wait a little to be soothed or taken for a nap.
Children experience numerous stresses in their little lives, such as physical frustration, minor pains, meeting new people, vaccinations, separation anxieties, etc. Whilst the dummy may help to soothe a child, it is important to recognise that it is healthy for children to feel a release from these stresses. Often, stress that has accumulated during the day will boil over at bedtime, so it is a good idea to support the release of stress during the day.
For example, if your child topples over and bumps their head, instead of aiming to stop the tears through distraction or popping the dummy in, you might scoop your child up; acknowledge that they are in pain because they fell; then hold them and cuddle them, telling them they are safe, whilst they cry. As adults, we find crying in the arms of a caring family member or friend to be a healing process, and it is the same for children.
There is also, of course, the issue of weaning from the dummy. A good time to do this is before seven months; before babies develop so much awareness of object permanence. However, if your baby is not ready at this time, then you may find weaning difficult prior to three years. It really depends a lot on the individual child, here.
A dummy may help your baby to soothe themselves to sleep more easily. Babies who do not use a dummy will discover other methods (thumb sucking, a comforter, hair twirling, etc.) but sometimes this can take much longer.
A dummy will fall out during the night, which can cause trouble for many babies (and their parents, of course!). After about four months of age we all cycle through light and deep sleep, and we have very brief awakenings which we are unaware of. However, a baby that needs a dummy to fall asleep will likely need it to fall back to sleep during those brief awakenings. At around about nine months, most babies can replace the dummy themselves, provided there are a few in the cot for them to find. This process can be brought forward by a couple of months if the baby uses a small comforter designed to hold onto a dummy or two, as it’s much easier to find and manipulate.
It is recommended that a dummy be introduced after feeding is well established (usually about one month), so that Baby can develop an appropriate nutritional suck.
Dummies can be used to soothe a baby, but it is important that they are not used to quieten a baby who is actually hungry. Feeding schedules can be useful for some families, but babies have lots of growth spurts and different feeding needs, so never ignore a baby’s feeding cues.