Dummies

Are Dummies Good For Babies?

Babies are born with an instinct to suckle. It provides them with comfort and nutrients as they grow. 

When babies can’t get this from mom, it’s time to introduce the next best thing: a dummy or pacifier! 

Sucking a dummy can help relax and settle babies, but many parents are concerned about the effect of a form on their child’s teeth and mouth.

For many children, sucking a dummy, thumb, or finger can cause changes to the teeth and jaws. 

The younger the age at which a child stops sucking a dummy, the more likely their teeth and jaws will correct the growth problems naturally. 

If a child is still sucking a dummy when their adult teeth come through, there is a much higher risk of permanent changes to the growth of the teeth and jaws.

Never put anything sweet on a dummy, as this can cause severe tooth decay very quickly.

When deciding to use a dummy, it is best to make sure breastfeeding is fully established first. 

Most babies have a strong sucking reflex. Some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers before they’re born. 

Beyond helping with nutrition, sucking often has a soothing effect. Are pacifiers really OK for your baby, though? 

Understand the benefits and risks of pacifier use, safety tips, and steps to wean your baby from the pacifier.

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What Sort of Dummy or Pacifier Is Best?

It may be a question of trial and error before you find a dummy that your baby will accept. Some babies refuse to take a form at all.

Most dummies come with a silicone or rubber teat and a plastic or silicone mouth shield and handle. 

The mouth shield prevents your baby from choking on, or swallowing, the teat. Some dummies are made all in one piece, so there are no joins or cracks that could come apart or harbour germs.

Latex or rubber dummies are softer and more flexible than silicone, but they don’t last as long. Silicone dummies may be easier to keep free from germs than latex dummies.

Orthodontic dummies are flatter than traditional cherry-shaped dummies. They’re shaped to encourage your baby to suck in the same way as when he’s breastfeeding. 

Orthodontic dummies are thought to have less of an effect on how your baby’s teeth develop.

When Could I Start Giving My Baby a Dummy?

Experts recommend that if you’re breastfeeding, you should wait until breastfeeding is established and your baby is gaining weight well. 

This is usually when your baby is about four weeks old. Then it’s really up to you when and if you use a dummy. 

Many parents use a dummy during the first six months to help settle their baby to sleep at night and for naps during the day.

Some parents use a dummy in the first six months because they’ve heard it may help to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI). 

It’s unclear exactly how a dummy helps reduce the risk of SIDS, and experts are still divided on the issue, so more research is needed to be sure.

It’s best if you try to wean your baby off his dummy when he’s between six months and 12 months old. There are disadvantages to letting him have a form for longer (see below).

Dummies

Will Using a Dummy Interfere With Breastfeeding?

It may do for some mums and babies. 

Official guidance is that it’s best not to give your baby a dummy until you’ve established breastfeeding, which is usually by the time your baby is about a month old. Waiting until then means your body has time to develop and maintain your milk supply.

Establishing breastfeeding first helps your baby get fully used to latching on and sucking at your breast, which can sometimes take a few weeks.

Dummy use itself may not cause breastfeeding problems. But if you’re already struggling with breastfeeding, you may find that you rely more on a dummy.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dummies

Sucking a dummy can help some babies settle. Sucking seems to have a soothing and relaxing effect on babies.

The Pros

For some babies, pacifiers are the key to contentment between feedings. Consider the advantages:

  • A pacifier might soothe a fussy baby. Some babies are happiest when they’re sucking on something.
  • A pacifier offers temporary distraction. A pacifier might come in handy during and after shots, blood tests or other procedures.
  • A pacifier might help your baby fall asleep. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick.
  • A pacifier might ease discomfort during flights. Babies can’t intentionally “pop” their ears by swallowing or yawning to relieve ear pain caused by air pressure changes. Sucking on a pacifier might help.
  • A pacifier might help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Sucking on a pacifier at nap time and bedtime might reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Pacifiers are disposable. When it’s time to stop using pacifiers, you can throw them away. If your child prefers to suck on their thumb or fingers, it might be more challenging to break the habit.

The Cons

Of course, pacifiers have pitfalls as well. Consider the drawbacks:

  • Your baby might become dependent on the pacifier. If your baby uses a pacifier to sleep, you might face middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth.
  • Pacifier use might increase the risk of middle ear infections. However, rates of middle ear infections are generally lowest from birth to age six months — when the risk of SIDS is the highest, and your baby might be most interested in a pacifier.
  • Prolonged pacifier use might lead to dental problems. Regular pacifier use during the first few years of life generally doesn’t cause long-term dental problems. However, prolonged pacifier use might cause a child’s teeth to be misaligned.
  • Pacifier use might disrupt breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding, you might wait to offer a pacifier until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old and you’ve settled into a nursing routine. However, a review of unrestricted pacifier use in healthy, full-term infants found that it had no impact on the continuation of breastfeeding.
  • He was sucking my channel bacteria from your baby’s mouth into the narrow tubes between his ears and throat (Eustachian tubes).
  • If your baby uses a dummy a lot, it may affect the structure of his mouth, which may mean mucus doesn’t drain as well along his Eustachian tubes.

Limiting the amount of time your baby uses his dummy will guard against ear problems. If you only let him operate it to settle himself to sleep, it can make a big difference to the number of ear infections he gets.

The longer your baby uses a dummy, the more likely it is to change the way his teeth grow. 

This can result in an overbite or crossbite, where the top and bottom teeth don’t meet adequately. 

You may notice this if your child sucks his dummy vigorously, or uses his figure beyond two or three years of age, even if he only uses it while sleeping. 

The worst effects are usually seen in children who use a dummy for four years or more.

The same goes for thumb-sucking, though. The UK’s Oral Health Foundation recommends parents try to avoid the use of dummies and discourage their babies from sucking their thumbs, if possible.

If your baby tends to use a dummy all day, it will be harder for him to try to talk to you or make sounds. 

Doing this is essential for his speech development, so it’s a good idea to limit using a dummy to when he’s trying to get to sleep, during the day and at night.

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Things to Consider When Buying Dummies

Ventilation Holes

Check that the dummy has two or more ventilation holes on the shield to prevent suffocation if your child gets the whole figure into their mouth.

Strong Construction

A teat that comes away can cause your baby to choke. Check the dummy before each use.

Ring or Handle

Both will help you hold the dummy easily.

Orthodontic Vs Cherry Teats

Orthodontic dummies are flatter than traditional cherry-shaped dummies. Orthodontic figures are shaped to encourage your baby to suck in the same way they do when breastfeeding.

Latex Vs Silicone

Most dummies have a silicone teat with a plastic or silicone mouth shield and handle. Latex dummies are generally softer and more flexible than silicone, but they don’t last as long.

Choosing Dummies

Dummies come in different shapes. The best way to find one that’s right for your baby is to experiment. But make sure the form 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 two 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 solid plastic shield with air holes. Check the security 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 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.
  • If you’re bottle-feeding, consider choosing a dummy from the same brand as the bottle. The teats are often the same.
  • Introducing dummies
  • 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.

Using Dummies

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 form if it’s broken or worn. Babies can choke on any loose bits.
  • Keep spare figures handy. Your baby is sure to drop the figure 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 figure 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.

Pacifier Do’s and Don’ts

If you choose to offer your baby a pacifier, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t use a pacifier as a first line of defence. Sometimes a change of position or a rocking session can calm a crying baby. Offer a pacifier to your baby only after or between feedings.
  • Choose a one-piece, dishwasher-safe variety. Pacifiers made of two pieces pose a choking hazard if they break.
  • Let your baby set the pace. If your baby’s not interested in the pacifier, don’t force it.
  • Could you keep it clean? Until your baby is six months old and their immune system matures, frequently boil pacifiers or run them through the dishwasher. After age six months, wash pacifiers with soap and water. Resist the temptation to “rinse” the pacifier in your mouth. You’ll only spread more germs to your baby.
  • Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t put sweet substances on the pacifier.
  • Could you keep it safe? Replace pacifiers often and use the appropriate size for your baby’s age. Watch for signs of deterioration. Also, use caution with pacifier clips. Never attach a pacifier to a string or strap long enough to get caught around your baby’s neck.

Are Dummies Safe?

Though we wish safety weren’t a problem, unfortunately (as with many baby products), there are design and use issues that could lead to problems for your little one. 

An unsafe dummy can choke, strangle or suffocate a baby, or could cause an infection.

The primary hazards to watch out for are:

Dummies

Choking and Suffocation

Children under three years of age haven’t developed the reflex action to cough up objects that lodge in their throats and are vulnerable to choking. 

This can happen if the teat detaches from the shield of an old or poorly made dummy and gets stuck in their throat.

If dummy shields are too small, the child could get the entire dummy into their mouth, causing distress; and if the form doesn’t have ventilation holes, it could block their airways, causing choking and suffocation.

Strangulation

Dummies attached to a chain or ribbon that can wrap around a baby’s neck can be fatal. 

You should never tie a dummy on a string or ribbon around your baby’s neck or to a cot, pram or other play equipment. 

Like dummies, dummy chains are subject to mandatory safety standards, so look out for compliance when choosing a dummy chain.

Infection

Infants are easily susceptible to infection. This can occur when the dummy hasn’t been cleaned properly, or the teat allows saliva, food or other substances with bacteria to enter inside it. 

For the first six months, you should sterilise dummies. After six months, your child is more resistant to infections, so washing the figure with soap and water is enough.

Tips When Using Dummies

Other dummy safety tips include:

  • Always check dummies before using them. Pull firmly on the teat and tug the handle and ring to check they don’t give way under pressure. Also, check the teat regularly – if you see holes, tears or bite marks, throw it away.
  • Don’t store dummies in direct sunlight as it can cause the rubber, latex or silicone to deteriorate.
  • Sterilise dummies or wash them in hot soapy water, then rinse and air-dry. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have clean, spare figures on hand.
  • Be aware that if your child can remove their form, they are more likely to try to place the entire state in their mouth.
  • Avoid using figures once your baby starts developing teeth. Chewing may cause the teat to tear and separate from the shield, becoming a choking hazard or poke holes in the teat, allowing bacteria.
  • Never tie a dummy on a string or ribbon around your baby’s neck or to a cot, pram or other equipment, as this is a strangulation hazard. If you must, use a dummy chain that meets the safety requirements.
  • Never dip the dummy in sweet foods or drinks, as this can cause tooth decay.
  • Babies’ forms and chains with unsafe decorations – such as crystals, beads or other ornaments – are banned. These decorations could come away and become a choking hazard.

Encourage Your Child to Stop Dummy Use

Give your child the chance to stop their dummy habit when they are ready. 

Most children stop sucking habits between the ages of two and four, but you can start the process from around one year of age. 

If left too long, the child becomes more attached, and it may be harder to stop. Dummy use during play can also stop babbling which is essential for speech development.

Avoid trying to stop dummy use suddenly, as it can lead to other oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking. 

You might start by limiting the use of the dummy, for example, only using it at sleep times or at night time. 

Give plenty of encouragement and persist gently but firmly. It may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. 

Try to be patient. The first few days without a dummy are likely to be the most difficult. 

If the habit continues into primary school years, seek advice from your oral health professional.

Dummy Sucking Versus Thumb or Finger Sucking

Studies of children who suck their thumb or finger show they have more difficulty breaking their habit than children who suck a dummy. 

One advantage of the dummy over finger sucking is that the form can be gently taken away when the child goes to sleep. 

This helps form the habit of sleeping without dummy sucking.

Pulling the Plug

The risks of pacifier use begin to outweigh the benefits as your baby gets older. 

While most kids stop using pacifiers on their own between ages 2 and 4, others need help breaking the habit. 

Use praise when your child chooses not to use the pacifier. If your child has difficulty giving up the pacifier, consider asking your child’s doctor or dentist for help.

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