Solutions for using a dummy

Some helpful suggestions if you are using a soother/dummy/binkie

Discussing using a soother often evokes strong views, for and against. As a sleep practitioner, I support anything that feels helpful and supportive for your young baby, and I would rarely be black and white about any practices that parents undertake with the aim of nurturing their baby and their experiences. Some research indicates that dummy-use acts as a protective factor against SIDS. Additionally, it is suggested to avoid introducing before your breastfeeding has been established. But like most parenting dilemmas, you will do what feels right for you. Let’s explore some common concerns and issues that may arise.

Infants are born with a strong sucking reflex that invokes calm. They can generate this with feeding on a teat or on the nipple. Using a dummy can be an addition to your sucking supports for your baby. It probably goes without saying that it needs to be sterile and that parents should avoid using a syrup or dip along with the dummy. Furthermore, it may take a few attempts with different brands to find a suitable fit for your baby and it is possible that some baby’s just do not want to suck on a dummy, so you will be navigating that. Some professionals suggest encouraging dummy use you can use a level of reverse psychology and pull on the dummy once in the mouth, to encourage them to hang on to it, but I will mention, that if they are resistant and it is taking lots of effort, then a dummy may not be for you.

If you have committed to dummy use in the early months, then I would work on allowing them to fall asleep with the dummy out of their mouth, specifically at bedtime between the age of 8-12 weeks, along with my percentage of wakefulness approach. This may mean, sitting with them and gently removing the soother as they are drifting off. If they begin to root for the dummy, gently pressing underneath their chin can help to manage this reflex.

The purpose of removing the dummy before falling asleep, is to help them to develop a sleep ability that does not rely on sucking, or at least an independent style of sleep that may help promote longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep, when your baby is capable of doing so. A sleep ability that is related to sucking can sometimes mean that your baby will need to suck back to sleep as they transition through their night sleep phases, that emerge in greater definition as they head towards four months of age. This can translate into multiple dummy replugs by the parent, and possibly one of the biggest complaints about them.

Although multiple dummy replugs can be the reported problem with the dummy users, there are ways to improve this, even if they fall asleep with the dummy in their mouth. The more rested a child is, the less dummy replacements they will generally require. Parents can undertake to ensure that their child is getting enough sleep at the right time, for their age and stage to offset this issue. They can use regularity, light and dark and continually attempt to promote a high sleep ability (greater levels of independent sleep) that enables more consolidated sleep, as sleep is developmentally maturing.

Parents can also begin to teach their child to use the dummy by always putting into their hand and gently guiding their hand to their mouth. You can practise this as an activity by day and then implement also overnight. Once this has been observed for a while you may also begin to encourage your child’s hand to look for the dummy, by swiping their hand about for it and once again, guiding to their mouth. Whilst I appreciate some parents have success with placing lots of dummies on the cot, I am more inclined to practise this teaching first, before sprinkling more into the cot, as I want to avoid them playing with the dummy or looking for one in their hand and one in their mouth as well.

As your child gets older, if they are throwing the dummy out of the cot, then I suggest that you have some spares on your person. If they throw it out, do not react. Wait, 3-5 minutes and replace with a spare, retrieving the one that they tossed out later, so that you do not encourage this activity.

If you are inclined to discontinue the dummy, always discuss this with your GP due to the links with SIDS and dummy use. Once content that it is appropriate, I would typically drop at bedtime and replace with my stay and support approach. I will always caveat this by saying if your child is more upset than you would like/can manage/anticipated, then return the dummy and review at a later time. There are often many sleep improvements that you can make instead of dropping the dummy for a child who finds it challenging to give up!