To dummy or not to dummy? that is the question I am often asked by sleep deprived parents desperately needing a break from the around the clock feeding and crying in the early weeks.
I have no problem with the dummy; in fact it can be a godsend…so long as it is used moderation, and safely. If you are breastfeeding, It is recommended not to introduce the dummy before one month of age, or until breastfeeding has been well-established to avoid nipple confusion.
As for the perfect timing for weaning from the dummy; I recommend around 4 months. This is when the fourth trimester draws to an end, and the sucking action is no longer essential for switching on their calming reflex. Unfortunately if you decide to keep the dummy beyond this age, the sucking develops into a habit, and can become increasingly difficult to break over time.
1) If your baby has colic or reflux, a dummy is great for settling in between feeds (instead of feeding more which will exacerbate the symptoms)
2) May reduce the risk of SIDS when used to fall asleep (not when they are asleep)
3) A dummy will satisfy the sucking reflex in newborns, so it is easier to stretch out feeds longer than an hour for older babies who want to feed continuously for comfort (which can cause colic like symptoms, and gas pain)
4) Dummies can be used to aid self settling by offering them comfort whilst babies learn to fall asleep independently (without relying on being fed, rocked, patted to sleep)
And the cons:
1) When your baby relies on the dummy to fall asleep, and then again to get back to sleep overnight *enter a sleep deprived, frustrated mum and/or dad up 10 times a night to plug the dummy back in* – a baby is not physiologically capable of replacing their own dummy until they are around 8 months of age
2) The longer your child has the dummy, the harder the habit is to break *enter the strong willed, defiant, dummy reliant, tantrum-throwing toddler*
3) Dummies have been associated with recurrent ear infections and misaligned teeth (in cases of frequent use in toddlers)
3) It can become a habit for parents also – resorting to using the dummy at the first grizzle or cry, instead of acknowledging the real reason for the upset (pain, dirty nappy, separation anxiety etc.). Crying is is essential for our children to release stress and tensions; which, if allowed to do so in the responsive and supportive presence of a caregiver, can result in a happier overall disposition, less crying/grizzling, and better sleep. If babies look to the dummy for comfort every time they feel upset, rather than freely expressing their emotions, then this becomes an unhealthy control pattern, which can extend to ongoing repression of emotion (well into adulthood)
4) The dummy can have a negative effect on breastfeeding if given too frequently too early on, as the baby can spend so much time enjoying the satisfying yet unproductive sucks, that they lose interest in feeding
If the dummy has become more hinderance than help, here are a few weaning tips
- First and foremost, you as the parent must be committed and prepared to follow through with the change to avoid confusion
- Communicate, and state your intentions in advance. Validate any feelings or emotions your child may have about this change – listen, respect, and acknowledge them. Offering reassurance, extra love and cuddles can go a long way 🙂
- Going shopping for a new favourite toy for sleeping (comforter), can be effective in making the transition to being dummy-free
- Restrict use to bedroom and bedtime only (you can place multiple dummies in their cot or bed so they can put their own dummy back in overnight without your intervention)
- The earlier you wean, the easier it will be… for everyone
- Don’t plan for emergencies – this will only reinforce that if your child cried for long enough, their dummy will magically appear
- Go cold turkey. Be prepared for *some* tears. However, in my experience, it is usually the parents who think the weaning process will be much more painful and drawn out than what it actually is. Children adapt very quickly, and you can expect positive results within a few days
- Use Elizabeth Pantley’s gentle withdrawal method; a no cry (or limited cry) option. This can be rather labour intensive, so be prepared to clear your schedule, and up your patience. Results can be seen anywhere from a few days to a week if you are persistent (and consistent)
- I know some parents who have had success in handing over their children’s dummies to the ‘dummy fairies’ Easter Bunny, or Santa. Whilst this sounds magical, I always believe honesty is the best policy for important transitions such as this
- Empower your child by giving them the choice of how they would like to dispose of their dummies when the time comes (giving them a couple of options to choose from)
If you decide to keep the dummy, here’s a few tips you can try:
1) Place a number of dummies in your child’s cot so they can easily reach for them overnight without your intervention
2) Invest in a Sleepy Tot comforter (to attach the dummy to for ease of reach overnight)
3) Encourage your baby to replace their own dummy during the day and overnight – place the dummy in their hand and guide it into their mouth (your child will be unable to replace their dummy on their own until around 8 months)
4) For younger babies who ‘spit the dummy’ regularly and are unable to replace it themselves, you can try “reverse psychology”; once the dummy is in their mouth, then pull it out slowly toward you a couple of times. This action will encourage your baby to suck the dummy back in, therefore strengthening their mouth muscles – making it easier to keep the dummy in unassisted
TIP: When NOT to do a dummy detox: Probably best to defer the dummy detox for when your child is feeling well (i.e. no illness or teething), and try to time it when there is not other transitions going on – e.g. moving house, new sibling, starting childcare, new bedroom or big kid bed.