The pros and cons of dummies


So many people disagree about whether the advantages of using a dummy are outweighed by the disadvantages, when it comes to babies. Many parents find themselves wishing they’d never introduced one due to the difficulty they have weaning their baby off a dummy, while other parents use them for subsequent children after not using them with their first baby and find them to be a huge relief.

So for parents who are considering whether or not to use a dummy here are the main things to know before making a final decision:

The pros

1) A dummy helps to soothe a baby to sleep because the urge to suck/sucking reflex that is instigated at birth releases chemicals that reduce stress, helping to send them to sleep and help them get back to sleep after waking up during the night. It is the main way babies soothe themselves until they are old enough to soothe themselves in other ways.

2) A dummy can become similar to a transitional object and help babies to calm down when upset or scared and can counteract pain caused by illness or immunisations for the same reason.

3) Sucking on a dummy produces saliva which helps to reduce plaque build-up when your baby starts to grow teeth and prior to this, dummy sucking could ease pain your baby may experience when he or she is teething.

4) Some research indicates babies who suck dummies at night may have a lowered risk of SIDS, although the research did not indicate why this might be. Possible explanations include pacifiers helping to keep the airways open during sleep and babies sleeping less deeply because they are sucking, making it more likely they will stir when having breathing difficulties. However using a dummy should never be a substitute for other SIDS precautions such as putting a baby to sleep on his or her back, not exposing a baby to cigarette smoke and keeping anything that could cover a baby’s face out of his or her cot.

5) Premature babies may feed better when offered a dummy as it helps to hone their sucking reflex.

6) For babies that are born with a propensity to suck their thumbs, fingers or even fists (probably from doing so in the womb) which is a habit that is linked to dental problems, using a dummy can discourage them from doing this. It is also generally easier to wean a child off a dummy than thumb sucking as a parent can supervise and control access to a dummy (although removing a dummy can instigate thumb sucking in some babies who still have the desire to suck on something)

The cons

1) If introduced too early, using a dummy can prevent your baby from sucking well during breastfeeding and helping mothers to build up a good breastmilk supply, which in some cases can lead to feeding problems. For this reason experts often recommend waiting until 6 weeks of age to bring in a dummy.

2) When used past the age of 12 months, dummies have been linked to speech problems in some children who may not have enough opportunity to babble and enunciate when younger and who talk with their dummies in their mouth as they get older.

3) Dummies have also been associated with dental problems such as overbites or cross bites in children who have used dummies frequently up the age of 3 or 4 and when dummies are dipped in sugar or sweet things which causes decay, cavities and receding gums.

4) Using a dummy for long periods without a break can harbour ear infections by enabling bacteria to move from the mouth into the tubes between the ears and the throat and preventing mucus from draining well, and make your baby more prone to yeast infections in the mouth caused by fungal build-up. However ear infections are more common in babies over 6 months of age so cutting back on dummy use before this age may make your baby less susceptible to them.

5) Weaning a child off a dummy becomes more difficult as a child gets older. Although the baby teeth that come in the first year fall out as permanent teeth arrive at age 5 or 6, using a dummy will affect the development and indentations in the palate, besides the obvious fact that the longer a child uses a dummy the more he or she will become attached to it.

6) Dummies can lead to disturbed sleep for parents whose baby wakes up and needs to have his or her dummy put back in his or her mouth to go back to sleep as opposed to babies who are only given a dummy to help soothe them.

Once parents have made the decision to use a dummy for their baby, here are some other tips to offset any possible problems associated with dummy use:

- Dummies come with a silicon or rubber teat and are also available in latex, in cherry shapes or flatter orthodontic style dummies which are shaped to encourage your baby to suck in the same style required for good breastfeeding. Be sure to choose an age appropriate dummy so that a dummy brings your baby as much comfort as possible without creating any dental damage.

- Keep dummies clean and sterilise them in the same way as you would all of your baby’s bottle teats, throw away damaged dummies that have cracked and try and use a new dummy once every few weeks , sterilising it before giving it to your baby for hygiene reasons.

- Some babies don’t like dummies. A dummy should never be forced upon babies for the sake of preventing SIDS or to help them stop crying, and clipping a dummy to a baby’s clothes encourages overuse so should be avoided and they should not be used at night, as they could be a choking or SIDS hazard. If a baby initially refuses a dummy, parents can try and establish using a dummy at other, different periods in the first 6 months, as a baby may be more inclined to take a dummy at certain times such as when teething or going through a growth spurt.

- Don’t give a dummy to a crying baby without checking if he or she needs to be fed, changed, burped, put down to sleep, made more comfortable or checked for illness. Parents shouldn’t overlook their baby’s needs for the sake of calming their baby down.

- Have a date in mind in which to stop using a dummy, such as your baby’s first birthday when he or she is sleeping better, speaking more and is less likely to need it to soothe himself or herself. Additionally when weaning your baby off the dummy be certain your baby is not sick or upset, and try and plan to do it on the weekend so that if there are any sleeping problems there will be less disruption to the whole household and both parents will be available to help during the nights.