Babies love to suck. Even when they are not hungry, suckling at the breast can be a great comfort, as can sucking on your (clean!) finger.
Sometimes in the early weeks, babies look for something to suck but can’t find their thumb so they suck on their knuckles or their fists.
Babies have been observed even to suck their thumb whilst still in the womb! So what are the pros and cons of offering a dummy?
Dummies: the argument in favour
Having a dummy can be a great comfort to a baby, long before he or she can relate to a teddy or other cuddly toy.
Offering a dummy instead of ad hoc breastfeeding allows you more freedom as a new parent, and affords the opportunity to get your feeding regime into shape rather than offering food as comfort when he or she cries.
If you only allow a dummy at certain times, like when your child is tired, or a bedtimes, then the dummy is not overused or in danger of becoming a ‘gag’ when your child is crying.
Using a dummy when your child is sleeping has been found in research to reduce the incidence of cot death. This might be because the dummy helps keep a gap between your baby’s nose and mouth and the cot’s mattress or bedding. It is not that dummy-less babies are particularly at risk, but do bear in mind that that children who DO usually have dummies at nap and sleep times MUST have them at every nap and sleep time otherwise it can be more dangerous.
If your child does not use a dummy there is a danger that he or she will become a lifelong thumb-sucker, which can affect how the teeth develop. Thumbsucking is more difficult to discourage than simply being able to take a dummy away.
Dummies: the argument against
Once your baby has come to rely on a dummy, it can be hard to take the dummy away again, yet for reasons of good baby and toddler dental health it is important not to allow a dummy too long after your child is one year old.
To some people, the sight of a baby with a dummy is a real turn-off, appearing to be an opportunity to plug any verbal communication between parent and child, from gurgles to full-on crying. Make sure you do not use a dummy when you should be attending to your child’s cries.
If a dummy is used long after your child’s first birthday it can affect speech development and hamper the interest in learning to speak.
If you choose to offer a dummy…
Make sure your baby always has it at naptime and bedtime if they are used to having it when asleep. For more about this, click here.
A dummy should be kept clean but does not need to be sterile. However, if it falls to the ground do not clean it by putting it in your own mouth before giving it to your child, wash it properly. Ideally, keep a spare dummy in a carrycase when out and about.
Do not force your child to take a dummy if they do not want it. It doesn’t suit all children.
If you are breastfeeding, do not offer a dummy for the first four weeks.
Make sure you keep up the good practice of brushing your baby’s teeth.