The pros and cons of dummies and when to stop using them.
Dummies (also known as pacifiers and soothers) can be a controversial topic. The decision to use a dummy is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way and each baby is different in terms of their self-soothing skills, and their preference to use a dummy or not.
There is no "right" age to introduce a dummy; some babies have one from birth, some when they're much older (However you soon read my preference)! Some babies use them for sleep only, and other babies have a dummy to comfort them during the day.
Dummies can definitely be great in your baby sleep toolbox; equally they can start to cause havoc with your little one's sleep a bit later on.
In this blog post, we'll explore the pros and cons of using a dummy, and also provide you with a couple of solutions if you want to ditch the dummy.
The pros and cons of dummies and when to stop using them
When dummies work well
Dummies are great settling tools for younger babies because sucking is extremely comforting.
Babies younger than three months will resettle and move between sleep cycles a lot easier than older babies and won’t necessarily need the dummy replaced every time they come out of a sleep cycle.
This means a dummy can be a great way to settle your baby to sleep at the start of each nap or overnight, without having a negative impact on their ability to stay asleep. The newborn reflex to suck is strong and very comforting to them. I think that using a dummy in the newborn stage can be very helpful.
For an overtired or overstimulated newborn, a dummy can help them to fall asleep - this is especially effective if combined with other settling tools such as a swaddle, white noise and a dark room.
Closer to 7 or 8 months your baby will be able to learn to put the dummy back in themselves, a skill crucial to them being able to sleep through the night with a dummy. You can buy attachments for your dummy to make it a lot easier for your baby to find and replace their own dummy in the night.
The benefits of using a dummy:
Most babies have a strong sucking reflex and sucking often has a soothing effect. For some babies, dummies are the key to contentment between feedings.
Consider the following Pros:
• Some babies are happiest when they're sucking on something. It can help trigger the calming reflex. It can be particularly calming if your baby has reflux or wind. Some newborns find them very soothing.
• A dummy offers temporary distraction (they can come in handy during and after immunisations, blood tests or other procedures)
• A dummy might help your baby fall asleep. If your baby has trouble settling down, a dummy might do the trick.
• A dummy might help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Of course, dummies have pitfalls as well. Consider the following cons:
• Your baby will become dependent on the dummy. If your baby uses a dummy to sleep, you will face middle-of-the-night crying spells when it falls out of your baby's mouth.
• Dummies might increase the risk of middle ear infections. However, rates of middle ear infections are generally lowest from birth to age 6 months — when the risk of SIDS is the highest and your baby might be most interested in a dummy.
• Prolonged dummy use might lead to dental problems. Normal dummy use during the first few years of life generally doesn't cause long-term dental problems. However, prolonged use might cause a child's teeth to be misaligned.
When dummies become a nuisance
Once your baby is closer to 4 months if they are using a dummy to go to sleep, they can very often start needing it every time they wake between sleep cycles (45 minutes in the day and every 45 mins to 2 hours at night). This is a lot of dummy runs!
Until your baby is able to replace their own pacifier at around 7-8 months old, they will need YOU to replace it for them because they are relying on the dummy to fall asleep, so much so, that they aren’t able to go back to sleep without it.
If it becomes a problem, 3-4 months is a good age to ditch the dummy, unless you're happy to ride it out for a few more months until your baby can put it back in themselves.
What can also happen with using the dummy at night is that it can actually mask hunger - the sucking can trick babies' brain into thinking they are being fed. This can result in night waking because your baby is genuinely hungry, rather than just waking for the dummy.
Use of a dummy can sometimes mean your baby is going to sleep during the day before they're actually ready for a nap - especially for younger babies. The sucking is such a strong sleep association it can mean your baby settles to sleep earlier than they need to, which can cause them to catnap due to not being tired enough for a decent sleep. This is not a common problem; however I do occasionally see it.
Should I get rid of the dummy?
This is a question I get asked A LOT and the truth is that everyone's situation will be different.
If the use of a dummy is not interrupting your baby’s sleep, then there is no reason to ditch the dummy. You can continue to use one until around 2-3 years of age.
If however you’re thinking that your baby is already very reliant on it to get to the state of calm, so that they can they fall asleep, I recommend weening them off it between 12-14 weeks.
In this video I explain the benefits and drawbacks of using a dummy.
How do I get rid of the dummy?
Ensure you are reading your baby's sleep cues. A baby who is over or under tired will NOT be easy to wean off the pacifier no matter what you do!
Next, ensure you’ve got other positive sleep associations in place to replace the dummy, such as a swaddle (or baby sleeping bag), white noise, a dark room, a cuddly or comfort toy.
For babies older than 8 months, attempts to ditch the dummy will be very difficult and met with a LOT of protests because your baby is that much older. Your best approach for a baby in this age bracket is to teach them to replace their own pacifier and stick with it for a good while longer.
For babies under 6 months, we recommend using one of two methods, depending on how quickly you want the pacifier gone (and the level of protesting you’re comfortable with!)
This method works by taking away the dummy completely. During this process, you might need to help your baby settle for their naps - they will be upset while they get used to not having a dummy.
But don't worry, at every nap they will take less and less time to settle. It will take about 5 days to break the habit (sometimes sooner!) if you’re consistent in your approach. Remember, consistency is key.
Here, you replace the dummy with another settling tool/sleep association such as patting.
You then lose the dummy, then wean off the patting. This 3-stage process takes a bit longer as it's more gradual and there are a few more steps than the quick method.
Just remember, with the right guidance, support and consistency, there is no problem we can’t solve.
For more information about how to gradually reduce other sleep associations (like rocking or feeding to sleep), book in a free 15-min consultation with me below.
Case Study: 5-month-old Ethan
“My Ethan was 5 months old when Emma helped my family out of an entire month of his sleep regression within pretty much a week. Ethan has learnt to self-settle and resettle through his naps and nights without the dummy. We went from feeding 4-5 times a night down to just one and I don’t even need to swaddle him anymore. I could not thank you enough!”
If you need any help with any sleep challenge, please book in a free consult below.
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