Dummies: advantages and disadvantages
Sucking a dummy can help some babies settle. Sucking seems to have a soothing and settling effect on babies.
Also, when babies have dummies for every sleep, dummies might reduce SIDS risk.
But not all babies like dummies. There are other disadvantages to dummies too:
- Dummy use is linked to slightly higher rates of middle ear infections.
- Dummy use, especially beyond about 4-5 years of age, increases the chance of dental problems later in childhood – for example, the problem of a child’s teeth growing out of line.
- Babies who use dummies a lot during the day might find it harder to say words properly when they start to speak.
- Babies can get very upset when dummies are lost or misplaced.
- Babies can end up needing their 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 8 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.
Dummies come in different shapes. The best way to find one that’s right for your baby is to experiment. But make sure the dummy you choose complies with Australian Standard AS 2432:2015.
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 2 pieces can break apart and become choking hazards.
- Check you can easily grip the dummy’s ring or handle so you can pull it out quickly if it becomes lodged in your baby’s mouth.
- Look for a firm plastic shield with air holes. Check the shield is more than 3.5 cm across so your baby can’t put the whole thing in their mouth.
- If your baby is younger than 6 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 under or over 6 months.
- If you’re bottle-feeding, consider choosing a dummy from the same brand as the bottle. The teats are often the same.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s best to introduce the dummy after breastfeeding is established – around 4-6 weeks.
If you’re bottle-feeding, you can offer a dummy from birth.
Here are some practical tips for everyday dummy use:
- If you’re breastfeeding, offer the dummy only when you can be sure your baby isn’t hungry – for example, after or between feeds. This helps to ensure that dummy-sucking doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding.
- Check the dummy regularly to see whether it’s worn or degraded. Replace the dummy if it’s broken or worn. Babies can choke on any loose bits.
- Keep spare dummies handy. Your baby is sure to drop the dummy somewhere without you noticing, then get upset when they want it again.
- Don’t dip the dummy in sweet drinks or sweet food like honey. This can cause tooth decay.
- Don’t tie the dummy around your baby’s hand, neck or cot. This is a strangulation risk if the dummy chain or tie is long enough to catch around your baby’s neck.
Looking after dummies
Babies under 6 months should use dummies that have been sterilised. There are several ways to sterilise bottle-feeding equipment, which you can also use to sterilise dummies.
From about 6 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.
A common alternative to dummy use is sucking fingers or thumbs. 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 children give up finger-sucking by themselves.