The latest advice from the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths is based on research evidence showing that, on average, dummy use halves cot deaths and may cut the risk by as much as 90%.
Parents are being told a dummy should be given whenever settling a baby to sleep – even for naps. They should not force their babies to take a dummy and should not coat it in anything sweet.
The advice emphasises that parents should not get stressed if their baby does not want a dummy because it will not increase the risk of cot death, which currently claims the life of one baby every day.
It says: “Don’t worry if the dummy falls out while your baby is asleep, and don’t force your baby to take a dummy if he or she doesn’t want it.”
Professor George Haycock, the foundation’s scientific adviser, said the American Academy of Pediatrics set up a research group to investigate the conclusions of all adequately designed studies and found the overall risk of cot death was halved by dummy use.
“As a result of this finding, the AAP now recommends that a dummy should be offered every time an infant is put down to sleep, once breast feeding has been established, which they estimated would be the case after one month of age,” he added.
The foundation, the UK’s leading charity for the prevention of sudden infant deaths, says parents should begin to wean babies off a dummy after 6 months.
A foundation spokesman for said there is no clear reason why dummies protect against sudden death. Various theories have been aired, including improvement of the sucking reflex, helping deter babies from sleeping on their front and stopping them from sleeping too deeply so they wake up if they overheat or have trouble breathing.
Department of Health leaflets for parents on preventing cot death have been updated to include the recommendations. However, it is bound to cause controversy because other studies suggest dummies stop babies from breastfeeding and are bad for their health.
The highest period of risk for cot death is between birth and 6 months. The risk falls away dramatically after the first birthday. Rates of cot deaths are falling but 300 babies still die every year in the UK.