Should my baby use a dummy?

Consultant paediatrician Dr Robert Arlt looks at the pros and cons of giving your baby a dummy

Babies do cry; they have to, because for them it is a means of communication. They have to keep us informed of their real, or felt, needs. An hour of crying a day is average in a healthy baby, which means that a couple of hours can still be quite normal. Depending on how stressed parents are, they may perceive this amount of crying very differently. That is where the dummy, also very suggestively called a pacifier, often comes in.

Dummies have a naturally soothing effect and can be very helpful with infant colic and teething. Many babies love to suck for comfort, and the rhythmic and natural sucking process can help to induce sleep, too. Thumb-sucking could be seen as an alternative, but it’s much easier to get rid of a dummy.
An argument in favour of dummies is that it may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The Department of Health therefore advise offering a dummy at the start of any period of sleep.

On the other hand there are possible drawbacks. If your baby can only get to sleep using a dummy, it could easily fall from their mouth when they fall asleep. You will then have to replace the dummy after every sleep cycle, which may sometimes last as little as half an hour. Also, if a dummy is introduced too early, there’s the risk of nipple confusion when learning to suckle. Plus, dentists warn of possible orthodontic problems with frequent use of dummies, although this may happen with frequent thumb-sucking as well.

Recent psychologists’ studies suggest that heavy use of dummies robs the chance to learn facial mimicry during infancy. This can lead to poor levels of emotional maturity, curiously, especially among baby boys. Apparently, disrupting the child’s use of facial mimicry impairs the ability to identify the emotions behind expressions on other faces.

So, if you choose to introduce a dummy it’s important to bear in mind the following:
• If a baby is being breastfed wait until breastfeeding is well established, usually
when baby is at about one month old.
• Do not use a dummy for long periods and remember it is mainly useful before sleep.
• Wean them off before they are one year old.