By Raising Children Network
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Baby boy with a dummy in his mouth
 
Some parents swear that dummies are lifesavers, 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.

When babies use a dummy during sleeps and naps, there’s a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The best way to protect your baby against sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is to put him to sleep on his back with his face uncovered. For more information, see our illustrated guide to reducing the risk of SUDI and SIDS.

Disadvantages of dummies

Not all babies accept a dummy. There are other downsides to dummies too:

  • A dummy might make it harder to breastfeed in the first 4-6 weeks after birth.
  • Dummy use is linked to higher rates of respiratory and middle ear infections.
  • Dummy use can lead to a higher chance of dental problems later in childhood – for example, a child’s teeth growing out of line. 
  • 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. Our article on letting go of the dummy has tips for weaning your baby off the dummy when you’re both ready.

Choosing a dummy

Dummies come in different shapes. The best way to find one that’s right for your baby is just to experiment.

Here are tips to help you choose a dummy for your baby: 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you’re bottle-feeding, your baby might like a dummy from the same brand as the bottle. The teats are often the same.

Using a dummy

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

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to start using a dummy only when breastfeeding is going well. This is usually when your baby is 4-6 weeks old.

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

Babies aged 6-12 months who use a dummy are at a higher risk of middle ear infections and dental problems. It’s best to stop using a dummy around this time.

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 he wants it again.

Looking after the dummy

Babies under six months should use dummies that have been sterilised.

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. Replace the dummy if it’s broken or worn. Babies can choke on any loose bits.

An alternative to dummy use is sucking fingers or thumbs. This is normal and common. On the upside, babies can find their own fingers easily when they need them. On the downside, you can’t ban fingers when your child gets bigger. Luckily, most kids give up finger-sucking by themselves.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 20-03-2015