Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Are you on the fence about whether to introduce a dummy to your baby? Well you’re not alone. Most parents are either for or against them and have their own reasons. It is important that you understand both benefits and disadvantages to dummy use so you can make an informed choice.
Firstly, dummies are known to trigger the calming reflex and are a great calming tool to many babies and children. It is believed that the dummy rests on a segmental nerve of the central nervous system which helps to trigger the rest and digest state, making children feel comforted and soothed by the sucking.
It can be quite relieving for parents to know that they may offer the dummy during bouts of crying and unsettled behaviour and this will assist in reducing these distressing and tiring periods. And, it can also help babies to settle to sleep independently and this can absolutely provide parents with a little more time.
Although there are many benefits to allowing dummy use, recent developments in research has helped us to understand that the use of a dummy can lead to mouth-breathing because it does encourage a ‘tongue down’ posture. Mouth breathing, and sub-optimal tongue positioning, can have long term detrimental effects to your child's oral development, breathing, eating and sleeping habits.
From a professional perspective, I recommend avoiding introducing a dummy if your child is calm and easily soothed with other levels of support and assistance. However, if you are struggling to calm your baby down, then it can be helpful and less stressful for you to allow your baby to use the dummy as a soothing tool.
If your baby is over 7 months of age and does not use a dummy, introducing a dummy will not solve your sleep concerns so I recommend proceeding without the dummy to support the best outcome for optimal oral development.
But what if your child already has a dummy? Should you get rid of it, or allow your child to keep using it? Taking the dummy away at any age can be traumatic for both parent and child, so it's important to consider this when deciding on your next move. However, the best times to remove a dummy from your child is before the age of 6 months, or after the age of 2.5 years.
Before 6 months can be done cold-turkey but it can take at least 1 week for your baby to stop crying for (or demanding) the dummy. You may find this period quite challenging, so I recommend temporarily supporting your child through sleep and emotional times with any level of assistance required. This may look like rocking, bouncing, cuddling or feeding, just to name a few.
From 2.5 years of age, your child should have begun to develop their cognitive levels to understand that you are taking their dummy away, and even co-operate through the process. Many parents encourage their child to leave the dummy out for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, or even the Dummy Fairy in return for a gift, Easter Egg or desired toy. This can be a great strategy, but you will need to discuss this process with your child for at least 1 week prior to the lead up.
If you really want to remove your child's dummy and they are within these ages, your best option is to connect with a health care provider who specialises in age appropriate strategies to make the process as least impactful as possible. I can make connections for you, so please reach out if you need some assistance with this.
But what about those families who allow dummy use and want to continue to do so, BUT don't want to get up multiple times through the night just to replace the dummy? Don't worry, there are things you can do to manage dummy use, regardless of their age. If your baby is under 7 months of age, or swaddled, the responsibility will fall in your hands to replace it for your baby each time they need it. This is due to their lack of motor and cognitive development. This can mean frequent night wakes, longer settling periods and dummy replacements for a relatively long period of time, until your baby is able to do it themselves.
The good news is, that if you do decide to proceed with the dummy, you can teach them to find and replace their own dummy and shift the responsibility from you to them, once your baby is over 7 months of age.
Find and Replace Strategy
If you are ready to teach your child to find and replace their own dummy during times of sleep, you can do so with the Find and Replace Strategy. Always remember that your child should decide whether they have the dummy or not so any time you want to give it to them, whether it's during your settling period or their awake window, pause and offer it to them instead. Offer them the dummy in their hand, rather than placing it directly in their mouth, so they can put it in their own mouth. This allows autonomy in dummy use, reduces the effect of 'muffling' your child's emotions, and builds their motor skills to replace their own dummy during sleep time.
7-12 months of age
In the first instance, just place the dummy in their hand and guide it to their mouth. Once they can do this consistently, move to placing the dummy in their hand and allow them to place it in their mouth themselves. Once your baby can do this consistently themselves, place the dummy in the cot next to them and draw their attention to where it is using verbal instructions to encourage them to pick it up themselves. The next phase will be to draw their attention to where the dummy is in the cot and encourage them to pick it up and replace it themselves.
12+ months of age
Place the dummy in the cot next to them and draw their attention to where it is using verbal instructions to encourage them to pick it up themselves. The next phase will be to draw their attention to where the dummy is in the cot and encourage them to pick it up and replace it themselves.
I hope this have provided you with some information around dummies and helps you to make an informed choice around dummy use.
If you'd like to chat about your child's sleep, you can book in for a 15 minute free discovery call.
Forever bringing sleep to families,
My name is Shereen Nielsen and I am a certified infant and child sleep consult, working with children aged birth to 12 years. I am also a lecturer and mentor for students on their journey towards becoming a Sleep Consultant, through my on-line internationally recognised sleep consultants course.