As a speech therapist I get asked a lot about what my views are on using dummies (also known as pacifiers and soothers). Before I had my own children I’d have said not to use them due to the impact they may have on speech and language development, however my views have changed as I have learned more about infant behaviour in my feeding work and also since becoming a mother.
Sucking is a reflex. Babies are born wanting to suck, after all its how they get their nutrition. However sucking has also been shown to be an excellent way of soothing and calming a baby. Recent studies have shown that sucking a dummy may also reduce the risk of SIDS
Sucking during painful procedures for example when in hospital or for routine vaccinations may also help reduce pain. Finally for sick or premature babies who are not able to feed from the breast or bottle and who have their feeds fed via a nasogastric tube (NGT) sucking can really help them to utilise and practice the sucking aspect of feeding in order that have a more successful transition to oral feeding when they are more stable.
How about dummies for breastfed babies? There is a lot of talk about nipple teat confusion and I’m going to be a little controversial now, as I believe that there really isn’t enough evidence to support this idea. I also believe that in an ideal world you wouldn’t offer a breastfed baby a dummy in the first 6 weeks of life while breastfeeding is getting established and while your milk supply is building. However if your baby is unsettled and the breast is not always able to calm the baby or if your baby is only able to sleep while sucking on the breast or lying on your chest you may want to see if using a dummy would help.
Dummy do’s and don’ts
- DO NOT introduce a dummy until breastfeeding is established. This means your baby should be feeding directly from the breast for all feeds without nipple shields and does not require any supplementation of breast milk or formula from a bottle or other device.
DO wait till your milk supply is established and settled and your baby has regained its birthweight
DO NOT offer the dummy in place of a breast feed and do not use the dummy to extend the length of time between breastfeeds. Successful breastfeeding relies on responsive feeding
DO use the dummy if needed following a breastfeed or at the end of a long period of cluster feeding. If the baby is still unsettled with a dummy or refuses the dummy then return the baby to the breast.
DO choose an orthodontic dummy
DO sterilise the dummy at least once every 24 hours. Avoid using Milton solution as it will leave an unpalatable taste on the dummy
DO wean your infant from the dummy between the ages of 6 -9 months and before they start to experiment with sounds and begin to talk.
If you decide you want to keep the dummy beyond 9 months then try to make it just for sleep and DO NOT use it in the daytime when it can compromise attempts to talk and interfere with normal oral motor patterns.