The dummy debate, whether to give it to your baby or not, its advantages and disadvantages, has been a long standing discussion between parents and an area where you are most likely to receive conflicting advice. Dummies, whether liked or not, have been used for decades by mothers to pacify their children. To give your child a dummy or not is up to you, however, it is important to have all the information about its pros and cons before making a decision.
Sucking, as mentioned earlier in Benefits of Breast Feeding and Thumb Sucking, is a baby’s earliest reflex. Some ultrasounds show babies sucking on their thumbs inside the mother’s womb. It is easy to reason out a baby’s need to suck even before birth. By sucking on his thumb he develops the ability that is so vital to fulfill his nutritional needs later. Dummies pacify babies by fulfilling this need to suck, but that also requires a wise decision on the parent’s part. Otherwise it might lead to over dependency on the dummy and yield disadvantages discussed later in this article.
What is a dummy?
A dummy is a ‘blind’ teat (without a hole in it) attached to a disc that rests against the baby’s lips to keep the teat from being pulled entirely into his mouth. On the back of the disc is a ring by which the pacifier can be held by the baby, or attached to his clothes by a ribbon. Never hang the dummy around a baby’s neck in a ribbon; there is a risk of the baby being strangled by the ribbon if it winds around his neck. (Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock)
When and why do parents use a dummy?
It is noted that dummies are mostly used when the baby is 2-3 months old. Surveys have also shown that parents usually use dummies when it is their first child and more likely, if it’s a boy. Dummies pacify crying babies because sucking on something calms them down. The reason for a baby’s cry could be anything from being colic to wanting to suck at something the whole time. Some babies have a very strong urge to suck so they want to be at the breast or bottle the whole time. This demand can be very hard to fulfill and the baby’s constant crying can be very disturbing and distractive. For such babies, dummies can be very helpful (although a mother must take care of a dummy affecting her milk supply which is discussed later.) A baby often reacts quickly and absolutely to dummies. He either accepts it and enjoys it very much or rejects it completely.
Advantages of a dummy:
- Sleep: A dummy can help in putting a baby to sleep. A pacifier also helps to keep the baby asleep even if he is disturbed at night. He will start to suck on the dummy and has more chances of going back to sleep without opening his eyes.
- Calming: As sucking helps babies to calm themselves and gives them a feeling of security, a dummy can help a baby if he is suddenly frightened by something around him. Parents also widely use dummies through their baby’s colic episodes.
- Dental problems: If a baby is given a dummy he is less likely to develop the habit of thumb sucking. Dummies and thumb sucking, both can lead to dental problems and people argue that both are as aesthetically displeasing. Then why substitute the thumb with a dummy? Their argument is valid but children are often weaned off dummies (or they should be) by the age of 3-4 months. Colic ends by that time too so a dummy is less needed. On the other hand, thumb sucking is likely to persist for a longer period and has more chances of creating dental problems when the baby begins to teeth. A dummy can be thrown away at one point but the thumb cannot. Recent research also shows that children who suck their fingers rather than dummies have higher chances of tooth decay because sucking a dummy produces more saliva which helps combat plaque.
- Lesser risk of smoking as adults: Research shows that adults who have had dummies as babies are less likely to take up smoking.
- Lesser risk of Cot Death: The Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths announced that putting the baby to sleep with a dummy can reduce the risk of cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). No one reason has been pointed out for SIDS; however, many precautionary measures have been suggested. The use of a dummy while a baby is sleeping is one of them. The dummies’ bulky external handles might prevent babies suffering accidental lack of oxygen from having their faces buried in blankets or underneath adults’ bodies. Sucking dummies also improves development of babies’ airways. It is also thought that sleeping with a dummy positively affects a baby’s sleeping posture and helps prevent SIDS. Another theory also explains that a dummy might keep a baby in a greater state of arousal while sleeping, making him less vulnerable to SIDS.
Disadvantages of using a dummy:
- Possible link to ear infections: There is thought to be a possible link between prolonged dummy use and middle ear infections. It’s thought that sucking on a dummy increases the chance of an infection back-tracking from the mouth into the Eustachian tube (the air-filled passage connecting the middle ear with the back of the throat.) A study conducted in Netherlands showed that children who used a dummy were slightly more prone to ear infection for the first time. However, the tendency for them to get ear infection repeatedly, when using a dummy, after the first time, increases. The researchers think this might be because the first infection irritates the lining of a child’s ear. This could make them more vulnerable to ear infections in future. So, sucking a dummy might cause ear infections in children who already have irritation in their ear, but not in children who don’t. Although this is only a theory.
- Long-term dummy use and dental problems: Using dummies for a long term can also cause dental problems especially if the child is still using it as a comforter when his milk or permanent teeth appear. That is why it is important to wean a baby off the dummy in the first few months of his life.
- Speech Problems: A dummy prevents babies from babbling, which is the foundation of speech and an important step in learning to talk. It also discourages toddlers from chatting and communicating with others readily, which they need to do to develop their language skills. A dummy may prevent a baby from using all his tongue movements. An older baby’s ability to swallow may also be impaired, and this can result in difficulties with speech. Once he starts to speak, he may talk from the back of his mouth instead of the front. Nadine Arditti, a speech therapist from Manchester, researched children attending her clinic and found that just over half of all dummy-users in her area had been referred for speech therapy.
- Problems with breast feeding: The supply of milk is reduced because of excessive use of a dummy in the initial weeks of a baby’s life. The baby’s sucking on the breasts produces exactly the amount of milk he needs. By reducing that and substituting it with sucking on a dummy, there is a chance of reducing the supply of milk in the mother. Mothers also use dummies to stretch out the period between breastfeeds, thus reducing their supply of breast milk. It is therefore advised not to give the baby a dummy in the first 1-2 months so that he establishes a regular cycle of feeding. Then, occasionally giving him the dummy won’t affect the mother’s supply of milk. It is also thought that dummies alter an infant’s sucking technique. Dummies may cause sucking confusion for a small baby and this can result in early weaning.
- Mouth breathing: Sometimes, babies who use dummies develop the habit of breathing through their mouths which, in turn, results in long-term dribbling.
Important things to keep in mind for using a dummy:
- Before popping a dummy into a baby’s mouth make sure he is not crying because of something else.
- Don’t get in a habit of using a dummy regularly. Keep it as a last resort when the baby is crying or offer it only at bedtime or spells of colic.
- Don’t automatically give a dummy to your baby; wait for him to ask for it.
- Wean your baby off the dummy as soon as possible, especially before he is 10-12 months old. It gets much harder to wean a baby after this age.
- Do not dip the dummy in something sweet like honey, jam or orange juice. It accelerates tooth decay.
- If your child starts to talk while he is still using the dummy, discourage him from talking with it in his mouth.
- If you decide to use a dummy, use an orthodontic one.
- Sterilize the dummy just like you sterilize other feeding bottles and nipples for your baby and keep it as clean as possible.
- Keep a regular check on the condition of your baby’s dummies. Check for cracks, splits and holes that can trap germs. Replace old dummies immediately.
- Do not hang dummies around your baby’s neck with a string or ribbon. It can be dangerous if the ribbon wraps around the neck.
Weaning from the dummy:
When the right time comes, your child might not be very willing to give up his dummy. Some children get very attached to them. Then you can try using the following tips:
- Try putting a complete stop to it. Usually children fret and cry for only 2-3 days before adjusting to a non-dummy life. Try to accomplish this task at a time when you have a little help and rest, for example on a weekend. Choose the right time to give it up, not when you are under pressure to do so.
- If this does not work try gradually reducing the times you allow your baby to have his dummy, for example at bedtime only.
- Tell your child that giving up a dummy is a good thing to do. Persuade them to give their dummies to someone older they love and respect. Also try to get an older child to agree with you that giving up a dummy is a sensible thing to do. Little children love acting like grown ups.
- Reward your child for giving up his dummy but do not reward him with sweets. You can also use a star chart to motivate him.
- Once you have decided to give up the dummy, don’t be tempted to give it back and make sure there are none left lying around the house.
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