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Dummies are a bit of a 'Marmite' parenting tool – people either love them or hate them. So should you use one? And if so, how?
There are many good reasons to use a dummy. Babies have been using dummies – or pacifiers – in different forms for centuries. Studies have found that they can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), otherwise known as cot death. And the Department of Health currently states that giving your baby a dummy at the start of sleep can reduce the risk of SIDS in the first six months.
Dummies can also help calm and soothe, and encourage sleep in a fractious or colicky baby. 'I love dummies,' says baby sleep expert and maternity nurse Tina Southwood. 'If you keep an eye out for your baby's sleepy signs, a dummy can be very effective at sleep times. And they're especially good for calming a baby with colic or reflux.' It's also easier to wean a baby off a dummy than a thumb (if they prefer thumb-sucking to dummies).
However, there are drawbacks to dummies. 'If a mum is breastfeeding, I would tell her to wait at least two weeks or until breastfeeding is going well and established before introducing a dummy,' says Southwood. If a dummy is used too soon, baby might prefer the dummy or get 'nipple confusion' if they're just learning to suck. Also, sometimes a baby will need milk – for nutrition and not for comfort – and a breast is obviously better than a dummy in this case.
There's also some research that shows a link between dummies and recurrent ear infections, which are thought to be brought on by pressure (caused by the sucking) between the ear and throat.
If you're wondering how to wean your baby off the dummy, it's best to start before their first birthday. Firstly, it will be easier because under-ones tend to be less stubborn than toddlers. Secondly, some studies show that overuse of a dummy can delay speech development and even cause problems with teeth alignment.
So if you do decide to use a dummy, limit its use to sleep times, and ditch it before your baby's first birthday.
By Maria Lally