The dummy debate is always a controversial one and it is one every parent has with themselves. It seems to be a bit of a marmite issue – you either love them or hate them! Most of this comes from previous experience but I think some of it comes from the stereotype – if a child uses a dummy they suck on it all day, every day.
I am going to start this post by saying that I am a dummy lover and always knew that I would offer my baby one, but even I can’t deny that there are some negative points that do need to be considered. The first one that is a concern is the effect a dummy has on the health of the baby. Any dentist will be able to tell you if your child sucks a dummy or not – as I found out only this week. So there must be an effect on the positioning of their teeth. Does this matter if they haven’t got their adult teeth through yet? I honestly don’t know the answer but my dentist did seem to imply that we had a little bit of time to remove the dummy before it became a real issue (my daughter is currently 2). Another health concern that you may not be aware of, there is some evidence that sucking dummies can cause ear infections. This is not extensive but again is another consideration when thinking about whether or not to give your baby a dummy.
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The benefits of breastfeeding are widely promoted and the importance of establishing it in the first few weeks. Giving a baby a dummy can confuse them and make establishing breastfeeding more difficult. The advice is if you are breastfeeding to leave giving your baby a dummy for the first month, although it can take up to 6 -8 weeks to establish breastfeeding. Again this is something else to consider if you are planning to or are currently breastfeeding and would certainly be a good reason why not to introduce a dummy in the first few weeks.
I think the most compelling argument against giving your child a dummy is the image of a four year old sucking one while playing in the park or walking in town when they are perfectly happy and not in need of any comfort. Even as an out and proud dummy fan this sends chills down my back. The idea that children become almost addicted to their dummy is a worry, particularly when it has a detrimental effect on their speech.
For all the negatives there are certainly many advantages. Most persuasive being it can help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The evidence for this is not overwhelming but as every parent knows, just the mention of SIDS makes you think twice about something.
An alternative name for a dummy is a comforter and that is what it provides. Sometimes a baby doesn’t need feeding or changing, they just want to suck something. This could be their mother’s breast but apart from being exhausting and at times impractical (eg when driving, bathing other children), there are other times when we don’t want to be (or can’t be) a human dummy. The comfort my daughter found in just sucking her dummy was a life line for me, it not only settled her throughout the day or when I was getting her bottle ready but it also meant that she has slept through from 8 weeks. Ok it has not had quite the same effect on my second daughter but it has meant that she will self settle quickly and even after her feed during the night she is content to lie is her cot until she falls back to sleep.
My main reason for using a dummy was the control it gives me as my daughter’s mother. I can vividly remember trying to give up sucking my thumb and how hard I found it. It was always there and I would find myself unconsciously sucking it. As with every aspect of parenting you cannot just give your child a dummy and wait for them to give it up on their own. Why would they? I was reluctant to start reducing how much my daughter used her dummy as it became nick named the stop button. Whenever she became upset I gave her her dummy and it would stop her crying. (I would like to clarify that I still fed her when she was hungry and didn’t give her the dummy and run – it just meant that I could get her bottle ready without her crying or give her a cuddle when she was hurt and not loose my hearing to her screams.) As a result she was a very calm baby. When she reached 15 months I took it away during the day. I possibly left it a little late but after only 1 tantrum she never asked for it downstairs again.
Possibly my biggest bug bear is that there is no fuss about letting your child suck their thumb! This has the same difficulties as sucking a dummy but they are much harder to manage. You can’t control where your child’s hands go and what they touch. You can’t tell them to just suck their thumb at night and enforce it. It will still damage their speech and teeth if they speak with their thumb in their mouth.
There are many reason for and against using a dummy and it is hard to not agree with both sides of the argument. It is possible to have a child who has a dummy and only has it for bed time; and I think many people aspire for a middle ground. Somewhere between that four year old who has their dummy in 24/7 and no dummy at all. Rather controversially it will be a while before I take my daughter’s dummy away during the night. I have been the big bad witch who took it away during the day but who am I to stop her from using something she finds so much comfort in? And rather selfishly – Mummy needs her sleep!