All about dummies

Jan Murray, child-health consultant

Dummies – some parents love them, others hate them. Some babies never even use them, others use them for a short time and some never want to give them up. But whether Mum and Dad like the idea of using dummies
or not, non-nutritive sucking – sucking without gaining milk – is a natural reflex most babies are born with. This sucking helps soothe and comfort bubs for months and sometimes years, so while you may have a set view on dummy use, if your baby arrives and just wants to suck, it’s okay to reassess and change your mind!

Dummies come in various shapes, colours and sizes, and with different features. Ultimately, the one that works for your bub is the one to go with. There’s bound to be a bit of trial and error here, so don’t stock up before your littlie is born, lest you waste your money.

The dummy basics
Orthodontic dummies are made of firm silicone and are hard to bite through. They’re flat, tasteless and odourless and generally last longer than other dummies. They’re designed for healthier oral development, but there’s little scientific data to back this up. Conventional cherry-shape dummies are made of latex rubber, making them soft and pliable.

Most dummies are BPA-free, but if you want to steer clear of the chemical, check before buying. All have a guard plate, some contour the face for comfort and all should have vent holes for air entry, which will not only help prevent rashes from saliva, but also suffocation, should bub somehow get the whole thing into her mouth. One-piece dummies reduce the risk of choking. When it comes to size, dummies start with preterm sizes and get progressively larger. Bub’s mouth will determine the right size to choose.

The sucking solution
As a non-nutritive sucking tool, when a breast isn’t readily available dummies can help sooth stressed babies and bring comfort to little ones in pain. They can help settle babies to sleep, reducing crying time when other calming methods fail to work. Sucking also releases pressure in the Eustachian tubes of the ears, which can provide comfort during plane travel. There is also evidence to suggest that premature babies who suck dummies while being tube fed have accelerated development of the natural sucking reflex, permitting earlier discharge from the neonatal unit.

Research also shows non-nutritive sucking provides a soothing distraction when it comes to procedures such as immunisations or blood tests, and dummies are generally cleaner than fingers – which are often found in the mouths of babies who need to suck but whose parents are dead against dummies! As an added benefit, SIDS researchers claim sucking dummies lowers the risk of sudden infant death because babies remain in an alert state of sleep, with open breathing passages.

When things can, err, suck
There can be downsides to dummies, too. For example, they may have negative effects on nutritive sucking (when milk is obtained), sleep, general health and speech development. Continual sucking may cause saliva, which contains bacteria, to back-track into the Eustachian tubes, resulting in middle-ear infections. Prolonged sucking of dummies (for three to four years) may result in teething problems – including creating posterior overbites and cross bites. Cues to breastfeed young babies can also be missed when dummies are being sucked and this can interfere with the supply and demand process, resulting in decreased breastmilk production. This is possibly why statistics show mothers who breastfeed and use dummies tend to wean earlier.

Babies that cat nap during the day and wake frequently overnight often rely on dummies to sleep, which can prove problematic, and speech development may be compromised if babies use dummies during the day when words and sounds are forming.

Give and take
Wait until breastfeeding is under way (three to four weeks) before introducing bub to a dummy. Never force her to take one, instead gently brush the teat of the dummy across your littlie’s lower lip and slowly let her suck it in. Give the dummy a jiggle and hold it firmly until a strong suck is felt. Check her dummies regularly for cracks, splits and holes and replace those with any wear and tear, regularly wash them in hot soapy water and never dip them in honey before handing them over.

How dummies are used influences how stress-free they are to ditch. For babies, generally the easiest time to do away with dummies is at three or four months of age. The need to suck for comfort diminishes around this time and other soothing measures can be used, such as rocking, singing, toys, patting and pre-bedtime
routines. Make sure alternatives are used along with dummies for several weeks before the dummies are removed.

If you’ve left it until later, older toddlers can be convinced that they’re too big for dummies – see if she wants to leave her last dummy out for Santa or to ‘donate’ it to sick kids who need it more (package it up with her then pop it in the bin when she’s in bed). Her last dummy could be used as ‘money’ to buy a comfort toy, or you could secretly snip the end and have a goodbye ceremony or wave the garbage truck goodbye as it collects the last one.

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