By Raising Children Network
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Baby boy with a dummy in his mouth
Some parents swear that the dummy is a lifesaver, but there can be some downsides. Here are a few points to consider before introducing a dummy.

Advantages of dummies

Sucking seems to have a soothing and settling effect on babies. Sucking a dummy helps some babies settle.

There’s no evidence that dummies cause serious health or developmental problems in infants. Dentists tend to be concerned about dummy use only when a child’s adult teeth are coming through.

Dummy facts and fallacies

Some researchers debate about whether dummy use is associated with a higher incidence of middle ear infections. So far the evidence isn’t strong enough to prove either argument.  

Early weaning
There’s an association between dummy use and early weaning. But there’s increasing evidence that dummies don’t cause nipple confusion in breastfed babies, and that they aren’t the cause of early weaning. It seems more likely that mothers who are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding use dummies as a weaning tool.

If you’re experiencing problems with breastfeeding, speak to your maternal and child health nurse or lactation consultant.

Some studies have reported a link between the use of dummies and a lowered risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But the reason for such a link is unknown, and not all researchers believe that the research is conclusive.

The best way to protect your baby against SIDS is to put him to sleep on his back with his face uncovered. For more information, see our illustrated guide to preventing SIDS. You can also print it out as a handy reference.

Disadvantages of dummies

There are downsides to dummies:

  • Not all babies accept a dummy.
  • Babies can get very upset when dummies are lost or misplaced.
  • Babies can become dependent on dummies to get to sleep.
  • If babies aren’t old enough to find their dummies and put them back in during the night, they’ll cry for help. You can teach dummy independence when your baby is eight months or older.

Eventually, your child will have to part with the dummy. Children who’ve had their dummies for some time are likely to be very attached to them. This means that giving up the dummy might not be easy.

See our article on letting go of the dummy for tips on weaning your baby off the dummy when you’re both ready.

Choosing a dummy

  • Look for a one-piece model with a soft nipple. Dummies made in two pieces can break apart and become a choking hazard. 
  • Look for a firm plastic shield with air holes. Check the shield is more than 3 cm across so your baby can’t put the whole thing in her mouth. 
  • If your baby is younger than six months old, choose a dummy that can go into the dishwasher or be boiled.
  • Check the labelling to make sure you have the right size for your baby’s age. Most dummies are labelled for babies either under or over six months.
  • Dummies come in different shapes. Experiment until you find one your baby prefers.
  • Tying the dummy around your baby’s hand, neck or cot is dangerous. Your child could choke on the string or chain if it’s long enough to catch around your child’s neck.

Using a dummy

To ensure that dummy-sucking doesn’t interfere with feeding, it’s best to offer it only when you can be sure your baby isn’t hungry, such as after or between feeds.

If you’re using a dummy, have spares on hand. Your baby is bound to drop the dummy somewhere without you noticing, then get upset when it’s needed.

Looking after the dummy

From about six months, your child will be more resistant to infections. This means you need only to wash the dummy with soap and water, rather than sterilising it. Just make sure to squeeze out any fluid that gets inside.

Check the dummy regularly to see if it’s worn or degraded. Babies can choke on any loose bits.

An alternative to dummy use is finger or thumb sucking. This is normal and common. An advantage over dummies is that babies can find their own fingers easily when they need them, but you can’t ban fingers when your child gets bigger. Luckily, most kids give up finger-sucking all by themselves.
  • Last updated or reviewed 24-03-2013