Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Ah, the great dummy debate. It’s one of those topics that can really divide people in parenting circles. Non-nutritive sucking (NNS), such as using a dummy/pacifier or sucking fingers is considered a normal part of development and can be seen as early as 12-16 weeks gestation in utero. It releases endorphins and triggers a calming reflex in babies. Because of this, it is a fantastic settling tool and can be a useful sleep aide due to the promotion of relaxation.
The advantages and disadvantages of the use of a dummy or pacifier should be considered in order to make informed choices. There is some conjecture that the use of a dummy/pacifier interferes with successful breastfeeding, however studies show that pacifier use does not decrease breastfeeding duration when introduced correctly. Breastfeeding mothers are advised to offer a dummy once breastfeeding has been established, usually after the first 3 to 4 weeks. Several studies have also indicated that use of a pacifier, particularly when placed for sleep, has a significant protective effect and reduced risk against SIDS. In some countries, the use of a dummy is actually promoted as a SIDS risk reduction strategy.
Dummies can become problematic if your little one starts waking every time the dummy falls out of their mouth, and you find yourself having to constantly replace it during naps and all through the night. In this instance the dummy has become a sleep association, as your baby is relying on it to go back to sleep. This isn’t an issue if your baby knows how to replace their own dummy, but they don’t typically learn this skill until between 5-10 months of age on average. It might be worth it to you to stick it out, as once your baby is able to replace their own dummy they will be a much more independent sleeper. You can place dummies all around the cot for easy reach, and attach a dummy to a comforter once they are at least 7 months of age.
If you are replacing the dummy all night long you have two courses of action - ride it out while you teach your baby how to replace it on their own or ditch the dummy!
If you decide to eliminate the dummy you can do this at any age, however it is generally going to be easier for everyone involved if your baby is 7 months of age or younger. Past this point babies can be quite attached to their dummies. After around 7 months, you might find it easier and more gentle to wait until they are closer to 2 years old when they can understand what is happening.
For babies, you may choose to take a gradual approach and start by removing the dummy at night time (when their sleep drive is higher and there may be less resistance) and work up to removing it for naps as well, or you could remove the dummy cold turkey all at once. Babies will generally adapt faster to the cold turkey approach as it’s likely to be less confusing for them however you know your child best and should work within your own comfort zone. Either way, be prepared for a few unsettled days as your baby adjusts to the change and replace the dummy with other settling techniques at sleep times.
When it comes to toddlers, you can talk to your child about giving up the dummy once they are old enough to understand. You can make giving the dummy away a fun experience such as by giving it to the “dummy fairies” in return for a special treat or reward. Get creative and think about what would appeal to your toddler - giving the dummy to the baby birds in the tree who need it more than they do, or making a game of it? Even with the best preparation, it is still completely normal and understandable for your child to be upset and protest. Try not to give in once you’ve made your decision as this will only make the process harder (and longer!) for the both of you.
When it comes to the decision of ditching the dummy or sticking it out, ask yourself: what is the value vs the effort?
If you need help with ditching the dummy or personalised settling methods for your baby or toddler, check out my sleep consultation packages and feel free to reach out with any questions.
Better sleep is coming…