Updated: Mar 28, 2022
Let’s start with the million-dollar question: Should I use a dummy?
The truth is that it’s not a simple yes or no answer. It has multiple pros and cons. Babies like to suck for comfort, so if they’re very unsettled with wind pain or being overtired, sucking can help. I also like to call it the plug or mute button. If they are losing the plot, it can help to put the plug in.
It’s easy to mistakenly think that your baby is hungry, purely because it wants to suck for comfort. If your baby is sucking on its hand or thumb, it’s very likely that they were doing that while in your belly. Some babies are even born with a little love bite or blister on their hand or thumb from sucking in utero. In this scenario I have often heard parents say that it is easier to introduce a dummy and later throw it out than it would be to stop a child from sucking their thumb; after all, you cannot remove their thumb.
When are dummies good?
• When your baby wants to suck for comfort.
• To ease wind pain.
• When your baby is winding down.
• When they’re trying to fall asleep in a pram or away from home. It can help to soothe them and it also stops that one-to-two-minute whingeing cry, before they fall asleep. Which can feel like a lifetime when you’re at a café or in public with people watching you.
• In a car or flight during take-off and landing to help with their ears and to comfort them.
• To help them stretch out to the next feed.
• While they are teething and need to chew or suck for comfort.
• When you need a plug or mute button, predominantly at the end of the day from about four to six weeks of age, and this can last till around 12 weeks of age. (Often breastfed babies will need to feed more during these hours, so if they aren’t just comfort sucking on the breast, it’s important to let them feed. But don’t forget that there’s a difference between comfort sucking and nutritive feeding sucks.)
When are they a nightmare?
Generally, at night, when you yourself are trying to sleep. If your baby has learnt to sleep with a dummy, then you can become the dummy, getting up 20 or more times during the night to put the dummy back in their mouth, until they learn to do that themselves, which can take months. I often hear of mothers putting their eight-months-old to bed with five dummies around them, so they can find one during the night. That is fine, but even getting to that point takes months.
Babies come in and out of sleep cycles, which can vary in length from around 20 to 40 minutes. They can slightly wake and make some noise for a couple of minutes and then go back to sleep. But … if they’re sleeping with a dummy, they realise that they have lost it and will not settle until they have it back in their mouth. This honestly can become a form of torture for parents.
So, what is the answer? Or really what is the better question? That would be, how to not let a pacifier, turn you into a dummy.
If you choose to use a dummy, I think the best thing you can do is use it in a controlled way. During those unsettled periods, car rides and flights. Once your baby is settled, then remove it. Do not encourage it during sleep or during awake and settled times. Remember that your child needs to develop their speech, and constantly wearing a mouth guard aka a dummy, limits their ability to communicate. If your baby is winding down or has wind pain, you can let them have the dummy. As they relax and/or start to nod off they will often drop it or preferably you can remove it. This means not using it every single time your baby goes to sleep, remember only if very unsettled or out and about. A good way to manage a dummy is to only use it when they’re in their pram or car seat, or during witching hours. Keeping things consistent is the key.
Also, if you’re breastfeeding – try to avoid it till breastfeeding is well established and, look for one that is round at the tip - like a grape – not flat. This statement doesn’t apply to pre-term babies - who generally can benefit from using a dummy before breast-feeding is established.
Finally, if you want to use a dummy – Don’t turn into the dummy – by following my tips and remember to choose what’s ultimately right for you and your baby. 😊
Always check with your own Doctor, midwife or healthcare professional prior to following any information here - to ensure it's safe and adequate for you and your situation. This is not a midwife - patient - client relationship.