The Truth about Dummy use

by | Jul 5, 2019 | Sleep Consultant

The Truth about Dummy use

Here’s the Truth about Dummy use. Dummies are a controversial topic and just another example of parenting choice you need to make up your own mind about.

You may already know that sleep can be complex, but there’s also more complexity around the use of dummies than you might assume at first glance.

Everyone seems to have an opinion here, yours might have been cemented even before you became a parent. Who hasn’t seen an older child and thought that they’re too old to still use a dummy? Even though we don’t want to be that judgmental person, chances are you’ve had that judgmental thought at some point (until you become the parent with the older child still lugging around a dummy that is). As a parent, dummy use is something you may or may not want to admit to.

It’s true that using a dummy can become a negative sleep prop and lead to frequent wake ups and the inability to self-settle to sleep. But there are some very legitimate reasons to use a dummy for comfort too, especially early on.  So, let’s have a look at when it can be a good thing, and when you should consider giving it up.

Let’s start at the beginning by considering the word itself.

It’s not really a “dummy”

I’m calling for a change in terminology here. Because firstly what we classically consider a “dummy”, shouldn’t really be a dummy at all. Hear me out.

The word came from late 16th century English: from the word dumb + -y. The original meaning was ‘a person who cannot speak’. Furthermore, to “dummy up” is to ‘keep quiet; give no information’.

Therefore, giving a dummy to a baby implies its use is to “keep baby quiet.” However, other English-speaking countries call it something else. And the term Soother or Pacifier is much more appropriate. A large percentage of newborn babies have an innate need to suck, and this sucking is calming (soothing or pacifying) for them.

And that is the real reason to use a dummy – to soothe your child – not just to keep baby quiet. Please don’t fear your newborn baby’s cries, it’s their way of communicating with you. But if they’re crying because they’re overwhelmed, unsettled or in pain, a dummy can help calm them via their innate need to suck.

The innate need to suck

It’s true that some babies have more of an innate need to suck than others. In my experience, newborn babies who tend to be windier, have reflux or colic can benefit greatly by sucking on something other than the breast or bottle.

A dummy can be a godsend if you have a little one who wants to suck for comfort after nursing or feeding. This is different to the need to suck for nourishment and is hence called non-nutritive sucking. The dummy (or a clean finger) stops baby potentially overfeeding and gives mum a break, while keeping baby calm. Awesome, right?

A dummy here is important, not just to keep baby calm, but also because overfeeding can cause wind and digestive discomfort. And it’s easy to fall into the overfeeding trap if you’ve never heard of non-nutritive sucking.  When baby wants to comfort suck, they’ll use anything offered – including the breast or bottle.  However, if your little one continues to receive milk when wanting to suck for comfort, it can cause a bit of a downward spiral of painful digestive issues.

A baby who is in pain won’t relax or settle and we all need to be comfortable and semi-relaxed to drift into sleep.

Non-nutritive sucking (sucking while not gaining more food), has a calming and soothing effect on newborn babies, including a reduced response to pain. Furthermore, this sucking reflex helps produce saliva, including helpful digestive enzymes that make it easier on the body; letting your little one feel more comfortable and pass gas more easily.

This innate need to suck is different for all babies and is typically strongest over the first three to four months (when it stimulates the calming reflex).  After 6-months of age the innate need to suck is not typically as pronounced or calming, but you may find it has become a learnt response.

Other good reasons to use a dummy

You may have heard of other good reasons to use a dummy. Here are a few of them:

  • If you have a premature infant who is tube feeding, using a dummy can help speed up the maturity of a baby’s sucking reflex so that they move onto oral feeding more quickly.
  • Numerous studies around the world have found that dummy use is associated with a lower risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). However, despite numerous theories, it is not known how dummies reduce SIDS risk, and results are mixed.
  • A dummy can help stretch out feeds if you’re caught short and can’t stop and feed, and need that little extra time to get sorted and keep baby calm.
  • The dummy can also be used as an aid when learning self-settling. It’s another way to offer comfort while baby learns to fall asleep independently (without relying on being fed to sleep for example). But there is a caution here, which I’ll get to shortly.

As you can see, there are some really legitimate reasons for using a dummy! But there’s also another side to the coin. It is possible for a dummy to cause  problems with sleep.

Reasons to ditch the dummy

There are two main reasons I recommend ditching the dummy. And both occur when the dummy has become the main sleep prop. That is, baby has started relying on it to fall asleep. So, it’s not just a calming tool, it’s the only way your little one can get to sleep tool.

The problem here is that a dummy will ALWAYS fall out in deep sleep (every sleep cycle). And if your little one relies on it to go back to sleep again – i.e. baby doesn’t have an alternative strategy to fall asleep without it – then every time they have a naturally occurring wake (as happens frequently throughout the night) you can find yourself replacing that dummy. Again, and again, and again…

That is when it becomes exhausting – for everyone. This is most likely to occur somewhere between the ages of 3 – 6 months and they’re not old enough to find their dummy once it’s fallen out and easily pop it back in again themselves.

If this is happening in your house-hold, it’s time to let that dummy go! Around four months of age is the perfect time to ditch it.

The other main reason I work with parents to ditch the dummy is when it’s no longer working as a sleep aid. Your baby may be a toddler or preschooler now, and not need to suck anymore. Quite simply, they can easily outgrow the dummy. However, because there has been a reliance on it for comfort, they are struggling with the concept of soothing back to sleep when it no longer works. This is when working on a good internal strategy to fall asleep can help. But to find a new strategy, the no-longer effective dummy may have to go.

All children are different, so take this into account when you’re deciding whether to ditch the dummy. But also realise that most children are amazingly adaptable and will do just fine without it – if there is nothing else hindering the process (remember sleep can be complex). In my experience, it is often the parents who find the thought of removing the dummy the hardest.

and a few others…

There are also a few other reasons to ditch it when the time is right. Consider these points:

  • Dummies are difficult to keep clean and thus harbor germs making it more likely baby will get sick (and no, popping it in your mouth then giving it to baby is not the best thing to do – but you’re not alone in doing it).
  • Research has found links between dummy use and more tummy and chest infections, as well as recurrent infections of the middle ear. However, the exact relationship between dummy use and infections is not entirely clear.
  • Paediatric dentists recommend limiting dummy use by age two and eliminating it completely by age four. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by dummy sucking, which in turn can lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance.

So, there are some valid reasons for ditching the dummy – especially once baby has past the newborn stage.

So, is it a help or a hindrance?

The truth is, dummies can both help and hinder sleep. The key is to use your baby as the lead and respond accordingly. Every child is different, and what works for one, may not work for another. Just as something that may be a problem for one child, may not be a problem for another…

Ditching the dummy can be a daunting prospect. If the dummy is affecting your child’s sleep and they are under 6 – 8 months of age, there are ways to wean off the dummy for sleep, yet still keep it around for non-sleep times. If your child is ready to ditch the dummy for better sleep after 8 months of age, going cold turkey can often be best.

If you need to ditch the dummy for better sleep (or it’s only part of the sleep issue and you want to make changes but keep the dummy) I can offer you a clear step-by-step plan and support. My plans look at the whole sleep situation and aim to make the changes as easy on everyone as possible. Please book a free initial call with me to learn more. Because if you’re having issues, chances are that sleep can be better!

If you have decided a dummy is the way to go for you. Check out https://gobstopperz.co.nz/ for the Gobstopperz soother accessory that keeps your little one’s dummy close (they have some great newborn soothers too). Gobstopperz also make for great teething accessories, by keeping baby’s teether close by.

Use the code Cherished15 on their website for a 15% discount.

And if you love sleep as much as I do, please like Cherished Sleep on Facebook for more blogs and sleep tips. I’m on a mission to make sleep as easy for everyone as possible.  I’m on Insta also. I’d love you to follow along. Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep!