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Advice on using dummies and how to wean your child off one

Dummies or soothers or pacifiers are big business with a standard silicone or rubber teat and a plastic or silicone mouth shield and handle which can be plain – or fashioned into an animal, cartoon character or other favourite shape.

Latex pacifiers are softer and more flexible than silicone but they don't last as long. Modern dummies are safe to use, can easily be sterilised and the mouth shield prevents your baby from choking on, or swallowing the teat.

Although many parents use pacifiers to soothe their babies, some parents are dead set against them. Others are adamant they’ll never use one but soon change their minds when faced with a crying baby.

Should I use a pacifier?

It is thought that around two thirds of mothers used a dummy at some point. The UK based National Health Service include pacifier use in their guidelines as a possible way of preventing cot death (SIDS) saying: "It is possible that using a pacifier at the start of any sleep period reduces the risk of cot death. However, the evidence is not robust and not all experts agree they should be promoted".

The reasons behind this are that the bulky external handle of the dummy may help keep your baby's nose and mouth clear of covers and soft bedding, and the sucking action may help improve the way your baby controls the upper airway

It is also possible that use of a pacifier may affect the sleeping position of your baby in a positive way that helps to prevent SIDS or that using a dummy may keep baby in a state of greater arousal so they could be less likely to suffer from breathing or heart problems while asleep.

Most parents start using pacifiers when their baby is 2-3 months old to soothe their baby or to help them get to sleep.

It is thought that sucking on a dummy can help relieve pain, which is why parents often give their baby a dummy when they have colic.

Most of the negative issues associated with dummy use are connected to prolonged use. When used as a comfort, or an aid to get to sleep when baby is younger than one-year-old many parents find them very useful.

Disadvantages of dummies or pacifiers or soothers

Interfering with breastfeeding

There is a condition known as 'nipple confusion' when babies find it difficult to switch from an artificial teat, or dummy, back to the nipple. This is believed to result in breastfeeding mothers being more likely to wean their babies off the breast earlier than those mums who don’t use pacifiers on a regular basis.

Some people also argue that sucking on a pacifier instead of the breast results in lack of stimulation to the breast to produce prolactin, which then results in a reduced milk supply.

Whatever the reason, the use of pacifiers on a daily basis has been linked to giving up breastfeeding before a baby is three months old.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works closely with the UK’s Department of Health as part of the Baby Friendly Initiative, and strongly discourages the use of dummies while breastfeeding is being established. This is in an effort to try and support mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.

Tummy infections

Pacifier use has been associated with a higher risk of symptoms such as vomiting, fever and diarrhoea. This may be due to poor hygiene because using a dummy that isn’t sterilized could increase the risk of viral gastroenteritis and other viral illness.

Dental problems

The British Dental Health Foundation discourages the long-term use of pacifiers or thumb sucking as both could result in problems as the teeth grow and develop, particularly when their permanent teeth are coming through.

Delayed speech

Using a pacifier during waking or playing hours could prevent a baby from babbling, which is an important step in speech development. If a toddler is still using a pacifier it may discourage them from chatting

Dummy advice

  • Use an orthodontic pacifier
  • Keep it as clean as possible (sterilising it regularly)
  • Check regularly for cracks, splits and holes, which can trap germs, and replace with a new dummy regularly
  • Never dip the dummy in sweet foods such as honey or orange juice to stop your baby crying as this will lead to tooth decay
  • Limit dummy use to times when baby needs comfort, settling down to sleep or is unwell and fretful. Try to learn to recognize when your baby is looking for her dummy – don’t just automatically give it to her.
  • Wean your child off their pacifier before her first birthday
  • Don't let using a pacifier become a habit

Weaning your child off her pacifier

Gradually decrease the times when you let your child use her pacifier and restrict pacifier use to key times during the day, such as bedtime or when your child is ill.

With older children you can reward your child when she goes without her pacifier with treats, stickers or star charts (not sweets).

Try to instil in your child the realisation that older children don't use pacifiers. Children love to act more grown-up and copy older siblings.

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