Written by: Toni Foot
Why do babies like dummies?
Giving up the dummy can be a task many parents and children dread as their babies have always had their comforter with them for as long as they remember. But why to babies like dummy’s in the first place? Aside from the obvious nutritional purpose, feeding also requires close contact with their mother (or other carer offering a bottle), giving the child comfort and security. This is why many babies find a dummy a real comfort: sucking a dummy (or thumb) gives them the same warm, safe feeling they get from feeding.
Most children naturally give up a dummy as they wean off milk and start walking because there are so many more interesting things to investigate! However, some children become very attached to their dummies and are reluctant to let them go. Some children still need their dummies to sleep, while others want to hold onto them throughout the day. This can be very worrying for parents who begin having visions of their child reaching adulthood still clinging on to their dummies!
Why shouldn’t my baby have a dummy?
Dentists recommend discouraging sucking dummies and thumbs due to potential dental issues, particularly where front teeth become pushed out of place. However, this damage is generally only a problem for the adult teeth rather than the baby set so most children have given up their comforters by that point anyway.
A slightly more prominent issue is how a dummy or thumb may prevent successful speech development. Firstly they can restrict the movement
within the mouth, meaning the child doesn’t learn how to physically form words correctly. The tongue can be pinned down by the teat, and some children learn to hold the dummy between their teeth rather than let it go. Secondly, having an object in their mouth may discourage them from trying to talk at all because the dummy may fall out or need to be removed whilst they speak. Having a dummy may also cause a psychological ‘block’ that makes the child feel as though they are unable to speak.
Fulfilling the comfort needs of a baby can be very challenging for any parent. Breastfed babies can sometimes want to ‘comfort feed’, where they appear hungry but when they are fed the sucking is very shallow so very little milk is released.
Should I avoid dummies altogether?
Whilst many breastfeeding mothers don’t mind this for a little while, it can lead to soreness and can be very time consuming – sometimes to the point where a mother feels she can no longer feed her baby. Offering
a dummy can provide the comfort the baby seeks whilst providing some relief for the mother.
Bottle fed babies also seek comfort through sucking. The problem here is that babies cannot control the flow of milk from a bottle as easily as they can from a breast so comfort feeding can cause excess weight gain or vomiting.
Caring for children is difficult enough as it is so don’t deny yourself the opportunity to make life easier where you can. If giving your child a dummy offers them comfort and you relief, then there is no reason not to do so. Some children don’t want a dummy and continually spit it out. Others may turn to sucking their thumb (which is harder to remove later) if they need that sort of comfort and are not offered something to suck.
What if my child won’t let go of their dummy?
Despite parents’ nightmares, most children do give up their comforters naturally. Have you ever seen an adult with a dummy? However, some children can be a little reluctant and need a little encouragement. Try some of these tips to make the change a little easier:
- Don’t offer the dummy if they haven’t asked for it. Sucking a dummy can be as much of a habit for parents to break as for the children.
- Try only letting them have it when they really need it (such as at bedtime or if they are very upset) rather than allowing continual sucking.
- Some children cope better if the dummies are removed altogether and some need to wean off them. You are the best judge of what your child needs so trust your instincts.
- Talk to your child and explain what is happening. Secretly removing a child’s dummy can make them feel insecure and leave them distrustful of you. Try telling them that big boys/girls don’t need a dummy or asking them to ‘donate’ their dummies to children who really need them. Involving a child in the decision to remove a dummy will make them more likely to cooperate willingly.
- Try making a nice parcel and draw a picture to ‘send’ to unfortunate children who don’t have dummies. Or perhaps try leaving the dummies out for Father Christmas or the Dummy Fairy to take away in exchange for a present.
- Be consistent. However you decide to approach removing the dummy, stick to it and don’t give in.