To Dummy or Not?
It is common for new parents to ask…
“Are dummies bad?” or “Can I give my baby a dummy now?”
The decision on whether to use a dummy and for how long is a choice that you as a parent must make. It is completely up to you. It’s a topic where it seems like everyone has an opinion and many people are often happy to share their opinions with you, whether you want them to or not!
Here are my thoughts on dummies, from the perspective of a midwife, a mother and a sleep consultant.
Many newborn babies love to suck and sucking can really help your baby to settle. If you choose to breastfeed, using a dummy could make it harder to breastfeed in the first 4-6 weeks after birth, because the sucking action that your baby uses to suck on a dummy or bottle is completely different to the sucking action at the breast. If your baby becomes too accustomed to the sucking action on a dummy or bottle it can lead to ineffective breastfeeding and confusion for the baby.
If you are breastfeeding, I recommend waiting 4-6 weeks until you and your baby have established a good feeding pattern, attachment and supply before introducing a dummy.
Crying is usually the trigger to give your baby a dummy, so ensure that your baby’s cry isn’t for hunger. It’s important that the dummy isn’t given to your baby to settle them when in fact they are hungry, as your baby then misses out on a feed. It’s best to offer the dummy only when you can be sure your baby isn’t hungry. This helps separate settling from feeding and means you can follow the essential feed/play/sleep routine from early on.
Some studies have found that using a dummy can reduce the risk of SIDS.
Using a dummy while your baby is swaddled, is a very effective combination. Swaddling helps reduce your baby’s startle reflex and the sucking gives them comfort. Babies who suffer from reflux find it very comforting to suck on a dummy and this can have benefits for them. That is a topic for another whole blog!
Mel the Mother
A lot of parents who use dummies feel a twinge of guilt the first time they stick a dummy in their baby’s mouth. I know that I certainly did with my first child, Frankie. I think I even cried.
Dealing with a screaming infant all day long, especially out in public or on a long car trip will usually make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm their child down.
A dummy is an easy and harmless solution that often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. Our little ones have limited means of expressing what they want and they can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth, whether it’s a bottle, a breast, a finger or a toy.
Dummies aren’t the holy grail of calming babies down or putting them to sleep. Not all babies will take to a dummy and there is nothing wrong with your baby if they don’t like a dummy. Frankie loved her dummy, while Harvey just wouldn’t take one. In the end, I was glad he didn’t, it meant that I didn’t have to wean him off it later. I think that is imperative that you never force a baby to take a dummy if they don’t want it.
For the first few months, using a dummy with Frankie was hassle free. Actually it was bliss. However, around 4 months old a baby can become very dependent on a dummy. Frankie would cry out in the night for me to replace it and by the time that Frankie was 6 months old the dummy had taken its toll on me. No longer could I get up every 2 hours during the night to replace the dummy for her. So, for me the dummy just had to go and I introduced a comforter. ‘My Harold’ she calls him.
The Sleep Consultant
Most infants (more than 60%) lose their dummy within 30 minutes of falling asleep, then if they can’t re settle without one this becomes a problem, your baby will need the sucking again to go back to sleep. If you are finding you are getting up several times a night to replace the dummy, then it may be time to get rid of it.
At 4-6 months, babies are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and dummy dependence can cause long-term problems with sleeping.
Dummies interfere with the consolidation of night time sleep. If your infant or toddler uses one to fall asleep, they will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until they can find it. Even if your child isn’t bothering you to help, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval of the dummy. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is dummy dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for a tired and cranky infant/toddler the next day.
If you use the dummy beyond the 4-month mark, the dummy becomes what is called a ‘sleep prop’ where your baby begins to associate their dummy with sleep. This means that when they wake up in the day or night and realise their dummy has fallen out, having their dummy is the only way they are able and know how to fall back asleep.
Using a dummy appropriately isn’t bad for your baby. Regardless of whether you introduce a dummy or try to get rid of the dummy, you are not hurting your child with one. Dummies can be an absolute lifesaver in those early new born stages
If you want to use a dummy, I recommend using it as a last resort. Use it at certain times when it is necessary to help your baby settle but not for all their sleeps. It can be a godsend to help you and your baby get through the dreaded witching hour or when you are going on a long journey.
The best thing to teach your child from an early age is to self-settle, without any sleep props, but this doesn’t mean to leave them on their own to ‘cry-it-out’
Try settling your baby for a sleep or two each day without the dummy if you can. Once your baby is around 4 months old, try weaning off the dummy to prevent dependence.
If you would like some specific advice for you and your child, please contact me for a free 15 minute consultation where we can talk about options for your little one.