Love them or hate them, parents have used dummies, pacifiers, comforters, or soothers for centuries. As the names suggest, parents use them to calm and settle babies and, sometimes, toddlers too.
Babies are soothed by the action of sucking. You may find your baby needs to suck on something for comfort when he’s awake and not feeding. As he gets older and finds other ways to soothe himself, he’ll need to do this less.
Some parents couldn’t get through the day without giving their baby a dummy, whereas other parents strongly disapprove of their use. You may decide you definitely won’t use one, but change your mind when faced with your crying baby.
What sort of dummy or pacifier is best?
It may be a question of trial and error before you find a dummy that your baby will accept. Some babies refuse to take a dummy at all.
Most dummies come with a silicone or rubber teat, and a plastic or silicone mouth shield and handle. The mouth shield prevents your baby from choking on, or swallowing, the teat. Some brands are all one piece, so there are no joins or cracks that could come apart or harbour germs.
Latex or rubber dummies are softer and more flexible than silicone, but they don’t last as long. Silicone dummies may be easier to keep free from germs than latex dummies.
Orthodontic dummies are flatter than traditional cherry-shaped dummies. They’re shaped to encourage your baby to suck in the same way as when he’s breastfeeding. These may have less of an effect on how your baby’s teeth develop. See Do dummies have any disadvantages? below for more information.
When could I start giving my baby a dummy?
The official advice if you’re breastfeeding is to wait until your baby is about a month or so old before you introduce a dummy.
This is so you have time to get your milk supply established if you’re breastfeeding.
Then it’s really up to you when and if you use a dummy. Many parents use a dummy during the first six months to help settle their baby to sleep at night, and for naps during the day.
Some parents use a dummy in the first six months because they’ve heard it may help to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, the evidence for this is not strong.
It’s best if you try to wean your baby off his dummy when he’s between six months and 12 months old. There are disadvantages to letting him have a dummy for longer (see below).
Will using a dummy interfere with breastfeeding?
It may do for some mums and babies. Official guidance is that it’s best not to give your baby a dummy until you’ve established breastfeeding, which is usually by the time your baby is about a month old.
If your baby uses a dummy, he may not remember how to attach to your breast afterwards. Also, using a dummy early on could interfere with how much time your baby spends sucking at your breast. Your milk supply increases with demand, so the more you feed your baby, the more milk your body makes. It’s possible that a dummy could interfere with this.
Using a dummy has been linked to earlier weaning off the breast, and breastfeeding exclusively for a shorter time. However, experts have found that if you’re keen to breastfeed, it’s unlikely that using a dummy would affect breastfeeding.
Dummy use itself may not cause breastfeeding problems. But if you are already struggling with breastfeeding, you may find that you rely more on a dummy. Or you may use a dummy because you’ve already decided to stop breastfeeding.
What are the advantages of using a dummy?
A dummy may soothe your baby or help him settle to sleep.
The act of sucking can relieve pain. For example, it may help your baby if he sucks on a dummy when he’s having his immunisations.
A dummy may help if your baby is premature. If he’s given a dummy to suck on before feeds, he may adapt more quickly from tube-feeding to bottle-feeding. He may also be calmer and settle more easily before and after his feeds.
Premature babies who are given a dummy also have shorter hospital stays.
An alternative to using a dummy is to express your milk, and then encourage your baby to strengthen his suck on your emptied breast. Read about breastfeeding your premature baby.
What are the disadvantages of using a dummy?
Using a dummy for long periods can result in repeated middle ear infections:
- Sucking may channel bacteria from your baby’s mouth into the narrow tubes between his ears and throat (Eustachian tubes).
- If your baby uses a dummy a lot, it may affect the structure of his mouth, which may mean mucus doesn’t drain as well along his Eustachian tubes.
Limiting the amount of time your baby uses his dummy will guard against ear problems. If you only let him use it to settle himself to sleep, it can make a big difference to the number of ear infections your baby gets.
The longer your baby uses a dummy, the more likely it is to change the way his teeth grow. This can result in an overbite or crossbite, where the top and bottom teeth don’t meet properly. You may notice this if your child uses his dummy beyond two years or three years old. The worst effects are usually seen in children who use a dummy for four years or more.
The same goes for thumb-sucking, though. The British Dental Health Foundation recommends parents avoid the use of dummies and discourage their baby from sucking his thumb.
Using a dummy for long periods can make it harder for your baby to try to talk to you or make sounds. Your baby’s speech development is another reason why it’s best to limit using a dummy to when he’s trying to get to sleep.
Will using a dummy help prevent SIDS?
A dummy may help to prevent SIDS, but the evidence for this is not strong. If you choose to use a dummy for this reason, don’t worry if it falls out while your baby is asleep.
Don’t encourage your baby to take a dummy if he doesn’t want one. There are other, proven ways to help your baby sleep safely.
Your baby’s room temperature, putting your baby to sleep on his back, and not smoking, are important in preventing SIDS.
I’ve decided I do want to use a dummy. What else do I need to know?
Dummies can give you a break when your baby’s distressed. If you decide that it’s best for everyone if your baby has a dummy, here are a few tips:
- Use an orthodontic or flat dummy. There is some slight evidence that it may be better for your baby’s developing mouth than a cherry dummy.
- Keep the dummy as clean as possible. Sterilise it as you would any other bottle-feeding teat. Silicone dummies, or dummies that are all one piece, may be easier to keep free of bugs.
- Check dummies regularly. Cracks, splits and holes can trap germs. If you find any problems, buy a new dummy straight away.
- Never dip the dummy in sweet foods. Don’t coat your baby’s dummy in foods such as honey or juice to stop him crying. Honey can harm your baby, and sticky, sweet food and drink can cause tooth decay.
- Wait until your baby really needs a dummy. For example, if your baby is crying inconsolably, or you want to settle him. Try not to let his dummy use become a habit.
- Wean your baby off his dummy before he turns one year old. It will be easier to do it then, than when he’s older. To avoid your baby developing an overbite or crossbite, it’s best to stop before the age of two years old, and definitely before he’s four years old.