Dummies, pacifiers, soothers or binkies, are they friend or foe?! Let’s take a look at some ideas and a few tips to help you decide whether to keep or get rid of dummy!
There’s no doubt about it, babies are born with a strong desire to suck to soothe. Some babies will get instantaneous comfort from a dummy in their very early weeks whereas other kids find comfort in other things and just seem disinterested.
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Benefits of dummy use
For babies that love their dummy, it brings them comfort, and it’s likely with that comfort they can soothe, calm and drift off to sleep. Fab! However… as they enter the deeper stages of sleep, their muscles relax and the dummy is likely to fall out.
Ok, so, what does this mean in reality?
Typically, one of two things will happen
They’ll stay asleep (amazing)
They will wake (not so amazing).
If they wake, it may be either immediately or after their first sleep cycle. If the baby doesn’t notice, great! It’s likely to be a helpful sleep aid. However, if they wake either immediately or soon after it falls out then we need to rethink how ‘helpful’ it actually is.
Some babies can only resettle when the dummy is put back in and with this, they form a sleep association, needing it to drift back off. I speak to many parents who find themselves ‘re-plugging’ all night long and it can be awfully tiring.
Now, I chose to do this with my little girl, her reflux was so terrible and the dummy brought such relief that I was ‘plugging it’ back in until she was old enough to do this for herself. It’s what works for you as a family, weigh up the pros and cons.
You may also be experiencing other dummy issues such as your child being able to throw the dummy a mile away and then not self settle without the dummy!
Is the dummy harmful?
No! It brings a huge amount of comfort to many children. Whilst there have been concerns raised about excessive dummy use causing dental issues and interference with speech development, if we limit dummy use to sleep times that helps. There’s also been concerns about a dummy causing ear infections, so maintaining proper dummy hygiene (including sterilising for a new baby) is important.
So, to avoid any unwanted complications, ideally we’d be just using a dummy to settle for naps and at night time and removing it in the morning.
Wanting to get rid of dummy?
If you choose to ditch the dummy there’s options from cold turkey to taking a more gradual approach. As with all children growing up, the way we go about things depends on their age and level of understanding.
For a baby under 6 months
If they’re less than 6 months old then if I’m honest with you, it’s often better to go cold turkey. Yes, they may need a little extra help falling asleep for naps and your nights may be a little disrupted for a few days but then it’s gone. Stick with it, be consistent and help them find other ways to seek comfort, for example having a hand on their tummy as they fall asleep, picking them up to calm before placing them back down.
Little ones of this age don’t have a long term memory and also don’t have the emotional attachment to their dummy that older children do. You may find they seek comfort in other ways such as sucking on a thumb or their wrist.
If they’re young and still swaddled, then swaddle with one arm out so they’ve got easy reach to their hands to help them soothe.
Over 6 months?
So, what tips if they’re 6 months and up? It gets a little tricky from here on you see. Babies have started to develop an emotional attachment and will ‘miss it’ more. You can still get rid at this age, but the protests are likely to be for longer and also a little louder!
You can still go cold turkey, or reduce to one nap/sleep a day and then gradually wean from that when you feel they are ready for the transition.
Over 8 months? Sticking with your child’s dummy.
From 8 months to about 2 years you may wish to teach them to find and replace instead. This may be much easier for toddlers to master, but with lots of practice and making it fun we can see the skill learnt from 7-9 months of age.
It is a lovely skill to teach over the period of a week. Here’s my handy how-to guide!
Step 1: Start with handing the dummy to the baby and guiding their hand to their mouth at bedtime. Make sure you put in lots of practice throughout the day.
Step 2: One to two days later just hand them the dummy at bedtime and watch them try to find their mouth, offer a little assistance if needed, but they should be able to grasp this.
Step 3: After 3-4 days, place the dummy on their chest so they can locate it, pick it up and place it in their mouth.
Step 4: After 4-5 days, leave the dummy on the mattress and pat where the dummy is so they learn to look around for the dummy and locate it.
Step 5: A few days later they’ll be able to find and replace it themselves.
Remember, this is teaching a new skill and lots of opportunities to practice ultimately makes perfect.
Top Tips! At night time you may want to put lots of dummies in the cot to increase their chances of finding one in the dark and being able to pop it back in themselves. Comforters like this with a ‘soother saver’ are great and help increase the chances of a baby finding their dummy in the cot when it has fallen out.
As an alternative, some children this age and up will respond well to the tip of the dummy being cut off. This means it can’t be ‘sucked’ like it used to be. It then provides a different experience for them, not quite so pleasurable. They then may choose to self wean. Make sure you cut it cleanly so the dummy doesn’t pose a safety risk.
Some children may replace the dummy with thumb sucking.
Removing the dummy 2yrs+
Cold turkey or Dummy fairy?
The “dummy fairy” is a really helpful strategy for children aged 2 and above. A younger child or toddler may struggle to understand still so make sure your child can understand the concept of rewards and has started to develop a better self regulation of emotions. For some children, this may develop closer to 2.5-3 years when they’re likely to be more emotionally ready.
For the dummy to go it needs to be a good, structured and thought-through plan.
Remember, once it’s gone it’s not coming back! If it gets tough and you give in, returning the dummy, then sadly it only teaches the child to protest for longer and harder to get things back!
The preparation: A few days before removal day, start telling your child that soon they will have to say bye-bye to their dummy. Then it won’t come as a big surprise. Let them know their favourite superhero or dummy fairy thinks they’re such a big girl/boy they don’t need it any more and they’re getting something much better in return.
Go to the toy shop and pick a suitable gift. I often suggest a nice comforter as a replacement. The jellycat range is lovely.
The big day: On the day the dummy is going, you could hang all their dummies on a tree, then go and have some quiet time or an outing while the dummy fairy comes to take away the dummy for another baby who needs it. Make sure they are out of sight.
Sprinkle some fairy or superhero dust (aka glittery stuff) around the base of the tree and leave a wrapped up gift in return for the child to play with. Remove all the dummies from the tree and ALL from the house!
When your son or daughter returns to the tree and finds the gift then big this up. Lots of high 5’s and spend some time with them talking about their new toy. What clever fairies.
The days after: Your child may need support at bed time for a few days and they’re likely to be a bit unsettled, but keep reinforcing the positives, how proud you are, how nice the toy is they have in return, and that they’re such a big boy or girl.
If they get really upset and your child asks for their dummy, respond with a simple ‘dummy’s all gone’ phrase (on repeat if need be) and use your best distraction techniques! Most children will be sleeping happing without their dummy in a night or two, but it may take other children a week or so to adjust.
Not a fairy lover?!
Equally, the dummy can be put in the bin by the child and they can watch the waste collectors take it away in the big lorry. Either works. The aim is for them to understand it’s gone away and not at home any longer.
Still need help?
Moving to a big bed? Dealing with bedtime battles? I’m here to help! I can tailor advice and plans to your family and situation.
I can help establish good sleep bedtime habits and provide tips on how to cope with inevitable nighttime disruptions, I offer tried-and-tested sleep training solutions that are well worth the investment for your whole family.