If you were anything like me, you virtuously said while pregnant with your first child “I am NEVER using a dummy with MY baby”. Fast forward a couple of months, bubs is wailing and hey presto, you are frantically trying to locate the ’emergency dummy’ your thoughtful sister gave you… ah the sweet sounds of silence! That’s a huge lesson I have learnt as a First Time Mum, never say never. (for example: “MY child will never eat food off the floor” – ha!)
A lot of parents who use dummies do feel a twinge of guilt the first time they pop one into their baby’s mouth. However, dealing with a screaming infant in the middle of Woollies or on a 4 hour drive to Grandma’s will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to restore calm!
The truth is, it usually works. Babies are born with the innate instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know specifically if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth, whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger or toy.
But at a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and dummy dependence can cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that dummy use up until about age one is okay. Anything past age two and there can definitely be some worrying issues.
Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the dummy once your child hits toddlerhood:
Dummies interfere with the consolidation of night-time sleep. If your toddler uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until she can find it. Even if the child isn’t bothering you to help, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is dummy-dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for an overtired, cranky kid the next day.
Pediatric dentists recommend eliminating dummy use completely by age four, and limiting it by age two. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by sucking on a soother. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which can then lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance.
Studies are now linking dummy use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use dummies regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections, which I think most people aren’t aware of.
Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a dummy in their mouths, they will usually be less likely to practice talking.
Also, constant dummy use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally, according to Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist and author of ‘Childhood, Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know’.
So, the million dollar question: just HOW do you convince your child to give up the dummy?
Some kids will start to phase it out themselves as they develop other coping skills around the age of two. But some won’t give it up without a fight!
For babies: There is likely to be a strong association for bubs between the dummy and sleep (what we call a ‘sleep prop’) so we’ll discuss how to separate a baby and their dummy in a future blog.
For toddlers: Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the dummy by telling him he can only use it in the house. Whenever you go outside the house, tell him it stays behind until you come back. Next tell him he can only have it during a period of time during the day. So for example, only for 30 min during his/her TV time. Tell him that on the third day, it will be time to say goodbye to the dummy for good, and then make sure you stick to the plan.
Be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in. I have found that parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away, than the actual reality of it. Most children are over it within a day or two. So, set a date and get ready to be dummy-free!