Pros and cons of giving your baby a dummy

Wondering if you should use a dummy? We look at both sides of the argument around using a pacifier, as well as why your baby finds them soothing and how to use one safely.

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Dummies (also called pacifiers or soothers) are widely used by mums to help soothe babies, encourage them to sleep or stop them crying. There is also some evidence to suggest that using a dummy can reduce the risk of SIDS.

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When it comes to using a dummy, mums generally divide into two camps. Some swear by their dummy, to help tearful babies get some rest, while others never use one. It’s completely up to you to decide if a dummy could help you and your baby get some peace, but before you decide, it’s worth knowing what they’re all about and being aware of the pros and cons.

What are dummies?

Dummies or pacifiers are a silicone or rubber teat that babies can suck on, attached to a plastic shield and handle that prevent them swallowing or choking on the teat. You can also get teats made of latex, which are softer. Orthodontic dummies are also available, which are flatter than traditional dummies and are designed to be better for your baby’s teeth and jaw development.

Why do babies like dummies?

Young babies are naturally soothed by the action of sucking and you may find that a dummy can help comfort them when they’re not feeding. This desire to suck is a comfort mechanism and will decrease over time, as your baby develops other ways to soothe.

What age is it OK to use a dummy?

It’s recommended that you don’t start giving your baby a dummy until she’s at least a month old. Try to wait until she’s got the hang of breastfeeding (around 6-8 weeks), as this will minimise any interference the dummy could have on feeding (explained below). If you stop giving your baby her dummy when she’s around 3 months, she’ll probably forget all about it. But if you decide to continue using it, you’ll need to wean her off between 6 months and 1 year and this can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Dummy rules

  • Sterilise dummies as you would any other bottle teats.
  • Don’t dip the dummy into anything sweet as it can be bad for your baby’s gums and teeth.
  • Opt for a flat, orthodontic dummy rather than a traditional cherry one. There’s a small amount of evidence that these are better for your baby’s developing teeth and jaw.
  • Don’t let your baby become reliant on her dummy. Only use it when it’s really necessary, to settle her of to sleep or if she’s noticeably cranky or colicky.

Advantages of using a dummy

  • When nothing else seems to be working, a dummy can sometimes quiet your babies sobs and settle her to sleep in a jiffy
  • There’s some evidence to suggest that dummies may help lower the risk of SIDS, even if the dummy falls out while your baby’s asleep. However, if your baby doesn’t want a dummy, don’t force her.
  • The comforting sucking motion can work as a pain reliever, which might come in handy, for example when your baby’s having her jabs.

Advantages for a premature baby

A dummy may be helpful if your baby is premature, as it can encourage sucking. This may help her adapt from tube to bottlefeeding. Studies have indicated that premature babies given dummies tend to have shorter hospital stays.

Disadvantages of giving your baby a dummy

  • Babies who use dummies seem to contract more ear infections. This could be because bacteria from the mouth sticks around longer with a dummy in place.
  • Dummy usage has been linked to more cases of upset stomach and chest infection, though the cause isn’t known.
  • If your baby uses a dummy for long periods of time, it may begin to change the development and shape of her jaw and mouth.  As well as affecting her teeth, this can also prevent mucus from draining from the channels leading to the ears, causing more infections. Especially in cases where children use dummies until they are school age, dummies can cause cross-bite or over-bite problems where the teeth don’t meet properly.
  • If your baby tries to talk or make noises with her dummy in, it could affect her speech development, so make sure you remove the dummy when she’s making sounds.
  • Some experts are concerned you may miss your baby’s cue to feed as it’s hard to know if your baby wants the breast or her dummy.

Dummies and breastfeeding

Dummies might interfere with breastfeeding, as some experts believe babies can have difficulty switching between the different types of sucking, so you need to follow a few guidelines:

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  • Wait until you and your baby have established breastfeeding – usually around 6-8 weeks.
  • Only use a dummy to settle your baby, so she doesn’t waste energy sucking on the dummy instead of your breast.
  • You could find you’re running low on milk supply, because your breasts may not get enough stimulation. Encourage stimulation between feeds by expressing using a breast pump.

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