Dummy, pacifier, binky, soother … call them what you will, you probably have a few questions about them. At least once a week online and at every talk I ever do, I get the same questions on dummies. Many parents wonder about the value of dummies, if they should be used at all, how they impact sleep and when to get rid of them.

The value of dummies

It is well known that the mouth is full of touch receptors and is a zone of great comfort for little ones. As early as the second trimester of pregnancy, babies start to suck on their thumbs. So I believe, without any hesitation, that babies need to be able to use their mouth to sooth. There are three ways a baby can do this – they can suck on the breast for comfort, suck their thumb or suck a dummy. So my advice is do not stop your baby from sucking – rather guide them into sucking something that works for you and them.

I do love dummies; I think they are a good method of non-nutritive sucking. So lets look at the questions that may come up for you:

How to use dummies in the early days

Choose a shape (cherry or orthodontic) and material (silicon or rubber) that your baby most likes. Offer this dummy from around 10 days to 2 weeks of age, if your baby is very unsettled, especially after a feed.

If used appropriately, dummies do not cause nipple confusion, as they are different to nipples and do not deliver nutrition. Be sure that you do not use a dummy to fob off or delay milk feeds as this can lead to problems with feeding. If your baby is very colicky or has reflux, a dummy with a drop of Telement or Gripe water can be used to sooth the fussing.

Managing a dummy habit that disrupts sleep

Many babies develop a ‘dummy habit’ during the night between 5 and 7 months of age. To avoid this in the first place, do not delay a night feed by using the dummy. If your baby needs a feed at night and 5 hours have passed (for babies over 5 months) since the last feed, do not use the dummy to resettle your baby in place of a feed. This can lead to a dummy habit developing.

If your baby has developed a dummy habit and wakes two hourly for the dummy, you need to guide your little one towards independence.

From 7 months of age, most babies can use the dummy independently. Follow these three steps:

Day 1-3 – Goal = To use the dummy independently in the day

In the first few days, continue to offer the dummy at night as usual but during the day, teach your baby to use it independently. Each time your baby needs a dummy (whether tired, frustrated or sore) place the dummy in her hand as you comfort her. Show her how to use it herself to calm. You may even need to guide her hand (with the dummy) towards her mouth so that she learns to use it herself in daylight hours.

Day 4-7 Goal = To use the dummy independently in the night

Once she has learnt to use the dummy when awake, it is time to learn to use it while asleep or at night. Each time she calls you at night, go to her and place the dummy in her hand and tell her to take her dummy and pop it in her mouth. If she is battling due to tiredness and frustration, guide her hand with the dummy towards her mouth.

Week 2 Goal = Not to call mom in the night for the dummy

Once she has started to get the dummy (placed in her hand) to her mouth, stop placing it in her hand and rather place 5 dummies in the cot and tell her to find one. If she battles, guide her hand to find the dummy. By the end of the second week, instruct her from her doorway or even call out from your bed: “Find your dummy”

In time she will have learnt the vital skill of settling herself to sleep.

When to get rid of it

There are two good times to get rid of a dummy – one is just after 6 months of age – at this time, your baby won’t miss it too much. If the dummy has resulted in a waking habit at night, instead of teaching her to use it herself, you can simply get rid of it and replace it with a ‘doodoo blanky’ that she can hold onto to resettle at night.

The other time is after 2 years of age. If you choose to get rid of the dummy later in the toddler years, that is fine. The only guideline should be to limit the dummy to sleep times only, from 18 months of age. This is because we do not want toddlers talking with dummies in their mouth as it can hamper speech development, particularly pronunciation of sounds.

How to get rid of dummies

If you choose to get rid of the dummy before a year – simply remove it and replace it with a ‘doodoo blanky’.

If you do it after 2 years of age, make up a nice story that involves your toddler.

For example, we are going to give the dummy to the baby kittens at the pet shop. Go to the pet shop with all the dummies in a container and leave it there. Then go to the post office and get a parcel from the ‘mommy kitty’ who is giving your little one a kitten (toy) to replace the dummies. The transaction will obviously be staged but the association of the replacement toy will satisfy your toddler.

You may have a night or two of asking for the dummies but reinforce what she has done and the replacement toy. It won’t take long and is pretty painless.