There is so much conflicting information about the use of dummies: they sooth, they cause speech delays, they calm, they result in dental problems, they help babies sleep through, they interrupt sleep, they improve naps, they are difficult to get rid of! Like most things, when you are a new parent, it is tricky to know what to listen to and what to ignore.
To use or not to use?
The decision comes down to the preference of you and your little one. A dummy can be extremely helpful in soothing some babies because they are born with the instinct to suck. This is why you may notice your baby will suck on anything you put in their mouth – bottle, breast, finger, toy. If you are happy to offer a dummy, and your little one takes to it, no judgement here, go for it!
But, some baby’s (and my son was one of these) are just not interested in sucking on a dummy no matter how much you persist. My advice here is to not push it. If your little one continues to spit it out or doesn’t seem to be sucking on the dummy when it is put in their mouth, stop offering it.
When to give up the dummy
I advise parents to limit or drop the use of the dummy around 4-5months. I have found it is easier on both baby and parent, to drop the dummy at this age. This is
Another reason I think it is easier to ditch the dummy around the 4-5month age range is that this is when our little ones become a lot more capable of self-soothing. If a dummy is used past this age, a strong dependence can develop, and those self-soothing skills will not fully consolidate.
How does using a dummy affect sleep?
A dummy can interfere with the consolidation of night-time sleep. If your little one uses a dummy to fall asleep, they will most likely wake in the night, realise it has fallen out, and struggle to get back to sleep without it.
What does this mean for sleep?
- An increase in night wakings
- Poorer quality
How is the dummy causing increased night wakings?
The dummy is a sleep prop: something external your little one is relying on to get to sleep. In a nutshell, if your baby relies on a dummy to get to sleep, they simply do not think they are able to get to sleep without it. This means when your little one comes into a lighter sleep during the night and realises the dummy is no longer in their mouth, they have to wake up completely to find and replace the dummy.
If there wasn’t a reliance on a dummy to get to sleep, your child would be able to cycle through light and deep sleep without having to completely wake up and search for that dummy.
How is the dummy causing a poorer quality sleep?
“My daughter goes to bed with 5 dummies so she easily finds another one to put in her mouth and doesn’t need to wake me to help. Can’t be that bad then right?”
As a Sleep Consultant, I hear this question a lot! Even if your little one isn’t waking you to help, they are still having to wake completely to retrieve and replace the dummy. This is leading to fragmented sleep in your child, limiting the amount of time they are actually sleeping. This can result in a tired and cranky little person the following day.
Sure, brief wake-ups are common in the night, we all have multiple each and every night. However, if we learn to go to sleep without the use of a sleep prop, we can link our sleep cycles and get back into a deeper sleep without having to wake completely.
So how do you give up the dummy?
You may get lucky and find that your little one weans from their dummy on their own, but this is pretty rare. Most kids won’t give it up without a fight, with toddlers tending to resist the hardest.
Here are my three go-to strategies to help your child drop the dummy:
Strategy #1: Weaning
Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the dummy by only allowing it to be used in the house. If your child is old enough to understand, tell them the new ‘dummy rules’ so they know what to
Next, you limit the dummy use to a set period of time during the day. This could be for 30mins after snack time/lunch.
On the fourth day, it’s time to say goodbye to the dummy for good. Again, if age appropriate, explain to your child they are not having the dummy anymore. Make sure you get rid of all the dummies in the house so there are no temptations to giving in to the the pleas. Stay strong to your rules and stick to the plan.
Be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in. In most cases, it’s actually the parents who are more worried about the idea of getting rid of the dummy. Most children have completely forgotten about it within a day or two.
Strategy #2: Give the dummy away
This strategy only works for older toddlers who can understand the following scenario:
Have your child choose a ‘person’ (real or not) they will ‘give’ their dummy to. This could be Santa, Easter Bunny, Dummy Bunny, or another child who needs the dummy more.
Tell your child ‘before bed tonight leave all of your dummies on the bench so ‘person’ can come and collect them’. When your child wakes in the morning, they will find their dummies have been collected.
If your child asks for the dummy, remind them that they gave it away because they didn’t need it anymore and move on.
Strategy #3: Going cold turkey
Whilst this strategy tends to work well at any age, it is a great option for younger children who cannot understand the rules around weaning or ‘giving their dummy away’. To ‘go cold turkey’, simply stop giving your little one their dummy. This means they do not have it at all during the day or night.
I’m not promising this will be as easy as that! You will likely get some protesting in the form of crying or tantrums. Remain strong! If age-appropriate, you can explain to your child they do not need their dummy anymore. If they are too young to understand, you can sit with your little one to support or comfort them whilst they learn new self-soothing techniques.