Dummies for babies: The pros, the cons, and when to give them up

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Baby with dummy
Dummies bring comfort and security to thousands of babies and young children, yet so many people are against them.

We've outlined the facts - and the fiction - about dummies here so that you can make up your own mind. And if your little one is still reluctant to give up their dummy, isn't it rather comforting to know you're not the only one?

The good news about dummies

Give a crying baby a dummy and watch what happens. The screaming stops, the baby sucks frantically, calms down and often nods off to sleep. To a sleep-deprived parent this can seem nothing short of a miracle.

1. Young babies have a strong sucking reflex

And love using it, that's why they're so fond of dummies.

2. A dummy can help your baby get to sleep and stay asleep

If they wake briefly, sucking their dummy will often get them back to sleep - without you having to wake up and console them.

3. Dummies give you a break from feeding

Many babies want to keep sucking even when they've had enough milk. Dummies can prevent you over-feeding or having your baby permanently attached to your breast!

WARNING: Sucking on a dummy rather than a breast can interfere with the mothers' milk supply in very young babies. For this reason breastfed babies shouldn't be given a dummy until they're at least four weeks old.

4. They can reduce the risk of cot death

According to The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths settling your baby to sleep with a dummy - even for naps - can reduce the risk of cot death, even if it falls out while they're asleep.

However, not all babies like dummies, and if they don't take to it straight away, there's no need to force them to have one. Each child's needs and preferences are unique.

When should the dummy go?

Experts are divided on this. Here's what they say:

6 months

Some experts argue that if you get rid of the dummy at around six months your baby will adapt extremely quickly. This is because young babies have no long term memory and will quickly forget they ever had a dummy.

12-18 months

At this age, your toddler should be babbling happily. However, if they've got a dummy in their mouth all day they may not bother. This means their speech could be delayed. So if your baby is still really attached to their dummy, try weaning them off at this stage, especially during the day.

Chances are they won't be too happy about it and you may have a few bad nights, especially if they normally use the dummy to get off to sleep, but this should pass fairly quickly.

Age 3

Your child's teeth may begin to suffer if they're still using a dummy for long periods of time. Excessive use of a dummy at this age may push your child's upper teeth forward and cause dental problems which will have to be rectified later.

Expert opinion is divided on this and some children do seem more prone to problems than others. Thumb sucking is still considered by many to be more hazardous to teeth than dummies, especially if you stick to the orthodontic shaped ones.

WARNING: Dipping a dummy in sugary food is likely to rot your child's teeth, so don't do it - even as a reward.

At this age, your child is likely to be quite the dummy addict and may need some persuading to give it up - so be clever. 'Dummies are for 'babies' and you're a big boy/girl now, aren't you?' often does the trick.

Or you could try persuading them to throw it in the bin just before their birthday or Christmas and tell them they'll get an 'extra' present if they does. But be prepared for tears afterwards, when your child realises exactly what they've done!

4-8 years

Some children are more prone to dummy addiction than others. If your child is over four and still refusing to part with it, don't worry - you're not alone. We've all heard stories about children taking four or five dummies to bed with them and parents being forced to stockpile a favourite design 'just in case' they lose it. But even the most determined dummy sucker will have given up by the age of 8. We promise!

How to get the most serious dummy addict to give up

1. Get your dentist to help Take your child for a check-up and ask the dentist explain to them how they could get Bugs Bunny teeth if they don't give up the dummy. Your child has probably heard you moaning about the dummy for ages and won't take anything you say about it seriously. So there's more chance they'll believe the dentist than you.

2. Set a date Be sensible - pick a quiet weekend when it doesn't matter too much if you have a few broken nights sleep. And make sure the time is right for your child too - don't think about taking the dummy away if they're currently going through a difficult time, for example, if you've just had a baby, moved house, gone back to work, or your child's been recently ill. These are not good times to take away your child's comforter.

3. Replace it If they're worried about going to bed without the dummy, give them something to cheer them up. A special teddy to cuddle or a new duvet cover can make bedtime more attractive.

4. Bribe and praise If your child can get through one night without a dummy, tell them they can have a small present the next day. When this happens, praise them continually and build their confidence, tell them how clever they are and how proud you are of them.

Continued below...

Try not to back down. If your child manages one night dummy-free they can manage the next, and the next, so do not give in if they suddenly decide they want the dummy back. If you do, they'll lose confidence in their ability to do without it - and so will you.

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I was lucky enough not to have this "problem" with my daughter, as she had a dummy for around 3 weeks, tossed across the bedroom one day, and discovered her Thumb!! She still, at the age of 8 sucks it when she's in bed and tired, but it slides out and that's her - gone! But I feel I can't really say too much about that because I myself was born sucking my Thumb, and shamefully - I still sometimes do it when I'm tired! (Choosing not to reveal my age) but I did see Jo Frost aka Supernanny doing a brilliant trick with kids who didn't want to give up their dummies - which was to tell the child the "fairies" (for a girl) or "pirates" (for a boy) or whatever their into wanted their dummies in order to carry out their special mission, they had to take the dummies, place them in a delivery envelope, pop them in the post box (decorated to make it fun!) And the next morning when they woke up, the fairies / pirates would have left them a special present - a new toy / game / teddy etc as a thank you - sort of like the tooth fairy idea, the children were over the moon! So I would recommend that to any parent having trouble!!

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