Should I give my baby a dummy? Will using a dummy or pacifier damage my child’s teeth or affect their speech? At what age should a child stop using a dummy? As the great dummy debate continues, parents everywhere have serious questions about the use of dummies and pacifiers as soothing tools for babies. The most-asked question from parents? Is using a dummy or pacifier bad for my child?
BYY’s resident paediatrician Dr Enrico Maraschin offers parents some insight and answers all your dummy-related questions.
Does the use of a dummy affect a child’s speech development?
In the first few months, a dummy won’t affect the baby’s ability to communicate but from around the age of five months, a baby starts to babble. At this age, the tongue needs to be free to move around the mouth and enable the child to create sounds. Based on this information, it would be better to limit the use of a dummy to nap and sleep time.
Toddlers are also often given a dummy just to keep them quiet and put an end to the whining. It may do just that but perhaps we don’t want to be inhibiting verbal expression of feelings such as distress, anger or sadness.
Concerns have been raised around the prolonged use of a dummy as this may affect a child’s non-verbal and emotional skills. Children who have a dummy in their mouths for long periods of time, often have fewer facial expressions. Strangely enough, they then have a reduced sensitivity to the facial expressions of others. When facial expressions are lessened, then part of non-verbal communication is lost. Think about it this way. We can often tell how a person is feeling just from the look on their face, regardless of the words being used. Expressions are a very important component of communication, so getting rid of the dummy by the time a child needs to be sensitive to non-verbal cues is critical.
Generally, experts agree that dummies, bottles and thumb sucking in the early years of life won’t cause or worsen common childhood speech disorders but may affect the child’s ability to produce the z or s sound.
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Pros and cons of using a dummy: Are there medical reasons for or against the use of a pacifier?
The sucking reflex starts at 32 weeks of pregnancy and is only fully developed by about 36 weeks of pregnancy. A baby born before this time may have a poor or immature suck reflex. This then affects the baby’s ability to feed. A dummy proves very helpful in developing sucking skills and also soothing the baby if they need to have procedures done or blood taken.
Sudden infant death (SIDS)
In 2004 the American Journal of Paediatrics published a report in which it proposed that the use of a dummy reduced the risk of Sudden Infant Death (SIDS). This and other studies seem to suggest that when a baby is sucking on a dummy, they are more likely to respond to stress in the body and this, in turn, improves the chances of survival. As with any study, there are those who would disagree that a dummy and SIDS have any association but it is worth highlighting. Factors such as prematurity, cigarette smoke exposure, sleeping tummy down or overheating are way more significant contributors to SIDS.
A number of studies have shown that children in the older age group, who are allowed to suck a dummy throughout the day have an increased rate of ear infections (otitis media). Again this would reinforce the fact that dummies should be limited to sleep time.
How and when should a child stop using a dummy?
As has been discussed, there is a place for a dummy, especially in the early months. After a year of age, children become dependent on the dummy out of habit rather than a need for comfort.
Give the child a chance to stop the habit when he or she appears ready. Stopping the use of a dummy too early and abruptly may lead to other oral habits as a source of comfort, like sucking on their fingers, clothing or a toy.
- I would recommend that you start restricting the dummy from 12 months. Encourage your child to give it up of their own accord. Reinforcing how big they are and be sure to only allow it at sleep time from a year of age. Some parents tie the dummy to the bed with a ribbon when not in use. The child accepts that this is where the dummy lives. I really like this idea. The ribbon is removed when the little one is in bed.
- Age three should be your cut-off point. Your child should have developed other methods to self soothe and we certainly do want to preserve the teeth.
As old as the use of a dummy is, so too will the dummy debate continue. There are advantages to the use of a dummy but there are certain disadvantages if the habit is allowed to continue into the pre-school years.