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What’s wrong with sucking a dummy anyway?

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A dummy can be a godsend when it comes to soothing an unsettled baby. I should know. We bought a dummy for our first child four days after her birth, and it was absolute heaven – for everyone involved, including all the other residents in our apartment building.

However, not everyone agreed. Other parents would regularly offer their opinions on dummy use – how my baby would be addicted, her teeth would become crooked and she might develop a speech disorder. For me, it was the best baby product I’d ever encountered (it was only day four, so I hadn’t encountered that many!).

But what’s the truth behind the dummy? Is it a great calming device, or is it more trouble than it’s worth because it will lead to problems further down the track?

The advantages of the dummy

  • The dummy is effective in calming your baby, offering comfort and much-needed rest.
  • Dummies can help your child learn to self-settle.
  • As the dummy is not attached to your baby, it’s easier to give it up when the time comes (unlike fingers).
  • In the early years, dummy sucking does not cause problems for teeth or jaws.

The disadvantages of the dummy

  • Your child might come to rely on the dummy for sleep and regularly wake throughout the night if the dummy falls out of their mouth.
  • Babies get extremely upset if the dummy is misplaced.
  • Long-term use (after the child is 4 or 5) may affect children’s teeth and jaw position.
  • The dummy can interfere with breastfeeding, so it’s recommended that you avoid using the dummy in the first four to six weeks after your baby is born, and only offer the dummy in between feeds.

What’s the truth about speech disorders?

According to a University of Sydney study published in Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, dummy sucking is not the cause of certain speech disorders, as many would have you believe. The researchers examined the sucking behaviour of 199 preschoolers, either breastfeeding, dummy sucking, finger sucking or bottle using, to see if it was associated with phonological impairment (speech sound disorders). Lead author of the study, Dr Elise Baker, said that while dummies are controversial, they’re not associated with the majority of speech problems in children. “We looked at relationships between having a problem and not having it, and we found there was no relationship,” she commented in newsGP. “The rate of dummy use in both of those groups of children with a speech problem and without a speech problem was fairly similar.”

Read reviews of dummies on Tell Me Baby.

Practical tips for dummy use

  • Don’t dip the dummy in syrup, honey, juice or anything sweet as this can cause tooth decay.
  • Keep a supply of dummies close at hand, in case you lose one or drop it on the ground.
  • Don’t tie the dummy around your baby’s neck, hand or cot, as this can lead to strangulation.
  • Regularly check to see of the dummy is worn out or broken as babies can choke on small pieces.
  • Always select a dummy that is age appropriate and meets Australian standards.
  • Dummies need to be sterilised, especially if your baby is under six months.

How do I get rid of the dummy?

Many children decide to give up the dummy themselves. My daughter was nearly five and we tried all sorts of things. I’d heard about children handing it over to the garbage collector or offering it to the Easter Bunny. We tried leaving it out for Santa to take, but she changed her mind at the last minute – and I didn’t want to create tension between her and Santa, so the dummy was quickly retrieved.

In the end, no one else in her daycare room had a dummy so she put it in the bin and didn’t look back. After much agonising on my part, it was easier than I’d thought.

However if, as a parent, you feel the time has come to get rid of the dummy then Raising Children recommend a gradual approach:

  • If your child is old enough to understand then talk to them about it.
  • Choose a time when there is no change or stress afoot.
  • Start by using it less during the day.
  • Designate certain times and places for dummy use, such as the cot or car.

I always worried about my daughter’s dummy use, especially when she’d pull one out of her handbag at the park. But she did give it up and never had any problems as a result of her dummy. On the other hand, my youngest daughter sucks her fingers – a dummy, as it happens, isn’t so bad after all.

If you have any problems or questions about your baby’s dummy use, then have a chat with your dentist, healthcare nurse, or GP.

Read our dummy comparison chart.
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