In this guide we’re going to talk all about dummies. Whether you call them dummies, pacifiers or soothers we’ve got tips for you:
- When are dummies useful?
- How to use a dummy
- Are dummies helpful for sleep?
- When to stop using a dummy?
- How to stop using a dummy?
When are dummies useful?
Whether you decide to use a dummy or not is completely your choice as a parent. Lots of families find dummies really helpful to comfort and help settle their baby. There are also many families who choose not to use one or find that their baby just doesn’t take to using one.
There are some specific cases where using a dummy might be particularly helpful, or even advised by your doctor or healthcare provider.
If your baby is born prematurely, it may be recommended for them to use an orthodontic dummy to help establish and develop sucking skills required for feeding.
For babies who experience reflux a dummy can also be a helpful tool as sucking can soothe the discomfort associated with reflux.
Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, general advice is to wait until feeding is well established before offering a newborn baby a dummy, around 4 weeks of age. If you aren’t sure or need support with feeding then we always recommend getting specialist feeding advice.
There have been some studies that suggest using a dummy may reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), however the reasons for this are not clear. Visit The Lullaby Trust for up to date guidance on SIDS.
How to use a dummy.
If you choose to use a dummy there are guidelines for safe use:
- Don’t use a neck cord or other dummy attachments as this may lead to choking.
- Don’t force your baby to take a dummy or put it back in if they spit it out.
- Don’t put anything sweet, such as honey, on a dummy.
- Regularly sterilize dummies and keep them as clean as possible in the same way as you would a bottle.
- Check regularly for any holes or splits as these can trap germs and be unsafe for use.
- If you use a dummy, use it consistently. So if you use it for naps and bedtime, use it for each sleep.
Are dummies helpful for sleep?
Every baby is different, so there are no hard and fast rule that giving your baby a dummy will mean they sleep better. Similarly, there is no rule to say ‘don’t give your baby a dummy, they won’t sleep well’.
Some babies fall asleep with a dummy and then sleep well for the rest of their nap/the night. For others, a dummy can become a hindrance to sleep.
If you find yourself having to reinsert a dummy several times in the night, in what we call ‘the dummy run’, then it might be time to think about making a change.
Babies naturally wake through the night, in fact we all do, as we cycle through different phases of sleep. If they have lost their dummy and need it back in order to fall back to sleep then it is likely you are doing ‘the dummy run’ a lot during the night.
Older babies may be able to find their dummy in the night and pop it back into their own mouth. If you are happy keeping the dummy and they are able to find and reinsert it themselves then you might want to leave a couple of dummies in their cot for them to make it easier.
If your baby is too young to find their dummy themselves, but you are committed to keeping it, then you might have to ride out some temporary disruption and help them learn to replace the dummy themselves. You can try placing their dummy in their hand, rather than their mouth, and help guide them to put it into their mouth themselves. It will take some time but can be helpful if you want to keep the dummy longer term.
Another option, if you find that your baby’s dummy is disturbing sleep, is to take the plunge and make the decision it is time to stop using it.
When to stop using a dummy?
You may choose to stop using a dummy if it is impacting sleep or you simply feel that your baby is at an age when you want them to stop having one.
Advice from the NHS and The Lullaby Trust is to ideally stop using a dummy between 6 and 12 months to limit the impact on speech and language development and their teeth. Some studies have also shown a link with dummy use and middle ear infections, though evidence is limited.
Don’t panic if your little one is older and you’re still using a dummy, there is always time to make the change when you are ready.
How to stop using a dummy?
You can decide if you want to take a more gradual approach or ‘go cold turkey’
If you want to go gradually, then you could start by limiting use only to sleep times. So if you’re using it at other times during the day, stop and only offer it at the start of sleep for naps and bedtime. You could start to gently remove the dummy before your little one is fully asleep and gradually use it less and less, or you might stop reinserting the dummy if it falls out.
Some babies take a long time to reduce their reliance on a dummy or can get more upset by taking a gradual approach. In which case it can be easier for everyone to simply take the cold turkey approach and stop using the dummy altogether.
Bedtime is usually the best time to start as babies can adapt more easily to changes in how they fall asleep then. They are naturally more ready for sleep and you have nature on your side. You can choose an alternative settling method and support them to sleep without their dummy.
It can feel daunting but you may be surprised at how easily they adapt. You might have a few trickier nights, and then your little one will forget they ever had a dummy.
For toddlers, we like to be transparent and upfront with them about what is happening. It can be helpful to involve them in the process. One approach you can take is to collect all the dummies in a bag, and then you either take them to a shop and ‘exchange’ them for a small toy or choose something online together. Involving them in the process and letting them feel part of the decision can help them feel empowered and excited about making the change.
Another approach is to introduce something else to help them move away from that dummy, like a comforter. This could be a small cuddly toy or soft material – there are lots available designed for purpose. We have a blog all about how to introduce a comforter.
It can be unsettling for babies and children if they aren’t sure of the boundaries or what to expect in different situations, so being consistent is key. If you decide the time is right to ditch the dummy then we suggest throwing them away so you aren’t tempted to start using them again.
If you would like to learn more about sleep and have guidance on how you can approach achieving a well-rested night’s sleep then check out our online courses.
These are designed to teach you all about how your child sleeps and to provide practical suggestions for settling techniques and routines to work towards.