Ditching the Dummy

Dummys, dodies, doo-dees, doo-doos, suckers, soothers, pacifiers.

We all have a different name for that little soothing magic we use to help soothe our little bundles of joy.

Have you ever gone out for the day with your little one and realised their dummy has been left at home? Is your child so attached that you drove home to get it – or just bought another one that day!?

Calming a screaming infant while you’re out shopping or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm the child down!

But the reason most parents use dummys is because they work pretty well for babies. Newborns have the innate instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in his mouth, whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger or toy.

And then the next thing you know, your baby isn’t a baby anymore, but a toddler or pre-schooler AND still using the dummy!

At a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and dummy dependence can cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that dummy use until about age one is okay, and can be helpful to regulate babies breathing while they are sleeping. Studies suggest that they can help prevent SIDS in infancy (up to age 1). For this use I recommend the brand Nuk which was developed by two dental experts in Germany and helps promote healthy teeth and jaw growth.

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Dummy use however, past the age of two there are some worrying issues.

Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the dummy once your child hits toddlerhood (or before!):

  1. Sleeping
    Dummys at this age are sleep props if your child can’t fall asleep without it. They’ll interfere with the consolidation of nighttime sleep which means if your child can’t live without it, they will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until they can find it. Even if the child isn’t waking you up to help find it, they’ll have to wakeup out of her sleep cycles, keeping her from getting the 10-12 hours of straight sleep they need every night.
  2. Dental problems
    It is recommended by dentists that the dummy should be gone by age two. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by sucking on a pacifier. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance. The earlier the sucking habit is stopped, the better, so children can hopefully avoid orthodontic appliances down the road.
  3. Ear infections
    Studies have found a correlation between pacifier use with recurring ear infections. In one study, children who didn’t use a pacifier were 29% less likely to develop ear infections.
  1. Speech
    Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying out sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a dummy in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking. Speech and language experts agree that weaning from the pacifier by 18 months is best for speech and language development.

Also, constant dummy use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally.


So what should we do to try to ditch the dummy!?

  • The first step is to start restricting its use. Try to limit dummy use to sleep and nap-time. For toddlers, try and predict when they will want it. If they want it when they are bored, distract them, and if it’s when they are upset, try to give them the words, time and space to express their feelings. Books are also great for this. Make sure you give them lots of kisses and cuddles.
  • Once your child is coping for longer periods without the dummy, set a time and date to take away the dummy.
    • For babies, teach them to self-settle on their own. Start during the day during nap-time and then do it at night. You will probably have at least three very rough nights, but then your baby should start to settle more happily on her own.
    • Once they are older and learning to speak, you can explain that they are now a big boy or girl and that they don’t need a dummy. Some parents use the dummy fairy who comes at night and takes the dummy away from under their pillow and replaces it with a new toy. The new toy can be a doll or bear and every time the toddler feels like she needs the dummy she can give the toy a cuddle. It may take a few weeks for them to stop asking for the dummy, but hang in there.
    • Some parents use books to talk through giving up the dummy (see below). This can be a lovely way to talk about taking the big step and to give them the confidence that they can do it too. A star chart can also be used to encourage dummy-free days if the child is three or older.
  • It is not a good idea to take away a dummy when there are big events taking place such as a move to a new house or a new baby, or when your child is sick.

Using a dummy is fine, but be mindful that there are some downsides if your child uses it well beyond the first year. Dummy-weaning can be stressful for both you and your child, no matter what method you use.

So, the key is to be firm as well as being very patient and supportive during the early days without their dummy. Soon your baby or toddler will forget all about the dummy, and be perfectly happy without it!

Some books to try;

    1. I Want My Dummy by Tony Ross: a hilarious my little princess book
    2. Florrie the Dummy Fairy by Anthony Crosbie: Florrie transforms Elliott’s dummy into his very own twinkling star
    3. The last noo-noo by Jill Murphy: Marlon the little monster can give up his dummy when he is ready to after all