Should My Baby use a Dummy?

When to use a Dummy
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Dummies… in or out?

Dummies can be useful in helping babies comfort themselves, settle off to sleep, and can also give parents a little piece and quiet – nothing wrong with that, right?  In fact, dummies can help some babies (particularly those born prematurely or who have difficulties feeding) develop good sucking patterns. Find out more about the advantages, disadvantages and risks associated with dummy use to help you decide what is best for your baby and how to eliminate dummy use at the appropriate age.

Dummies have their place in the first year. During this year of many firsts, your baby’s dummy might seem like magic:  quick, easy, and for many babies it turns on the comfort and turns off the tears. There is no denying that dummies can work remarkably well at comforting and calming a baby, especially if your baby has a strong need to suck, but has not yet developed the ability to put their own hands and fingers in their mouths. Beyond the soothing and nutritional use, sucking also provides babies with a wonderful way to explore and discover their worlds during their first year. But there are some potential drawbacks that you should be aware of if you continue to use a dummy beyond the age of one year, especially in terms of your baby’s speech and language development.

If using a dummy is part of your plan, it is important that you understand the advantages, disadvantages and risks of dummy use, as well as the steps to wean your baby from the dummy when use is no longer age appropriate.

 The benefits of using a dummy

For some babies, dummies are key to contentment between feedings:

  • Sucking is important, as it supports normal development and contributes to a baby’s sense of feeling content. In pre-term babies, it also help prepare the baby for feeding by mouth, as it helps improve the suck-swallow-breath coordination.
  • A dummy might help soothe a fussy baby.  Some babies are happiest when they are sucking on something.
  • It offers temporary distraction and becomes handy during and after injections, vaccinations, blood tests or other procedures.
  • If your baby has difficulty settling down, a dummy might do the trick and help your baby fall asleep.
  • A dummy might help ease discomfort during flights. Babies cannot intentionally “open” their ears by swallowing or yawning to relieve ear pain caused by changes in air pressure. Sucking on a dummy might help.
  • Research has shown that a dummy might help reduce the risk of sudden death syndrome (SIDS).

There are, however, concerns about the long-term use of dummies, especially in terms of speech and language development. Of course, not all children who have dummies will develop speech and/or language difficulties, and many children who present with speech and/or language difficulties have never been exposed to a dummy. But we do know that dummies restrict the movement of the mouth and this freedom of movement is necessary for your baby to develop good auditory discrimination skills, learn to produce speech sounds correctly and allow your baby to play with sounds and words. These are all essential skills in the development of a baby’s speech and language skills and prolonged use of a dummy might have an impact on a baby’s development.

The (negative) effects of using a dummy

Carianne Vermeulen, speech & language therapist for My Learning Baby, describes that there are several factors resulting from prolonged dummy use:

  • If a dummy is introduced too early, it can prevent your baby from sucking well during breastfeeding and influence your ability to build up a good breastmilk supply, which in can lead to feeding problems.
  • Frequent dummy use increases the average number of annual ear infections. Recurrent ear infections before the age of 2 years significantly influence a baby’s ability to hear and process auditory information (i.e. information that they hear and use to learn to speak).
  • Excessive sucking when a baby suffers from nasal congestion can force mucus into the Eustachian tube, which in turn, can result in ear infections.
  • Prolonged dummy use can influence dental and palatal (i.e. roof of the mouth) development.
  • Continuously sucking on a dummy result in overdevelopment of the muscles at the front of the mouth, which in turn lead to a persistent tongue thrust pattern, further effecting placement of teeth and accurate speech production.  
  • Drooling can occur as sucking causes more saliva production. This can also be caused by poor lip closure as frequent dummy use can hinder full development of the mouth muscles for drinking.  
  • If a baby or toddler has a dummy in the mouth, they are less likely to babble and experiment with sounds. They will also be less likely to copy mouth postures and sounds adults make. Copying and playing with sounds are important in the development of speech production skills.
  • A toddler is more likely to choose to continue sucking and point to obtain wants and needs, instead of attempting to say sounds or words. Other people also tend to think that a toddler is not going to talk when they have a dummy in the mouth, so assume there is no point talking to and engaging with the toddler. This results in the toddler having fewer opportunities to communicate with others.
  • If the toddler does try to talk with a dummy in the mouth, it may result in distorted speech production, because when they talk around the dummy air escapes over the sides of the tongue.
  • Dummies are often used for nurturing. If parents over rely on an alternative comforter like a dummy, the build-up of the baby’s trust in the parent is lessened and the parents are denied a chance to develop baby comforting skills.

Safety tips

Here are some guidelines to keep your baby safe during dummy use:

  • Give your baby a dummy when you put your baby in the crib, but don’t reinsert the dummy once your baby is asleep.
  • Don’t secure your baby’s dummy with a cord that is longer than 22cm; it is a strangling hazard.
  • Get the right size dummy. Make sure it matches to your baby’s age and make sure it fits in the mouth.
  • Don’t let your baby share a dummy; you do not want your baby sharing germs with other babies. Also, wash your baby’s dummy in soap and hot water to keep it clean between uses.
  • Choose a dummy with ventilation holes in the shield to let air in.
  • Give the dummy to your baby as is. If you sweeten it, you can damage your baby’s teeth.

When to reduce dummy use

When is the best time to eliminate my baby’s dummy, you might ask. According to Carianne, an appropriate time is as soon as your baby can hold a cup and is eating solid foods. This usually occurs around 12 to 18 months of age. As a toddler becomes more independent, around 2 years of age, they start to develop habits and exert their own demands. This makes the elimination of dependencies more difficult. The elimination of patterns before they become habits and/or demands will help your toddler’s overall development. They learn internally that it is the parent they can rely on to comfort them and provide them with a secure environment. Remember who is in control and they will appreciate you more for it!

Suggestions on how to eliminate the dummy:

  • Avoid putting your baby to bed with a dummy. Help your baby to find other means of comfort (e.g. a special blanket or stuffed animal). When your baby is lying down, sucking can pull mucus towards the Eustachian tube that can possibly cause ear infections. The sucking also teaches the tongue to rest in a downward position instead of on the palate, which can often hinder adequate articulation (i.e. sound production) development. Also, if your baby lose the dummy during the night, it can cause them to wake unexpectedly and break good sleep patterns.
  • Do not let your toddler walk around with a dummy. Teach your toddler to use the dummy only while sitting down or in stressful situations, like going to the doctor. Most toddlers are going to want to wander around, but if they are taught they must sit with their dummies, they may give them up on their own. Remember your toddler will love and respect you more if you provide boundaries for them.
  • Remove the dummy for short periods of time when your toddler is doing something enjoyable, for example playing or looking at books.
  • A ‘magic box’ for the dummy might help your little one keep the dummy just for bed time. Your baby will be amazed putting the dummy in the box in the morning, it would disappear when not looking, but then it would come back again at night when getting ready for bed time.
  • For older toddlers, gather the dummies up and take them to the toy store, where your toddler can “trade in” the dummies for a toy of choice. For most toddlers, it will be easier to deal with the dummy issue now rather than waiting until they become more attached and the habit becomes more ingrained.

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