Paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young Lucy Wolfe gives someone useful information on soothers.
Do dummies suck?
You will always hear mixed reviews on soother use with young children. You may have promised yourself that you would never allow your baby to have one, and yet you may find yourself using one after all. You may intend to use a dummy and find that your baby resists entirely. It is possible for your baby to seem disinterested in the dummy at first only to become addicted to it or you may find the reverse is true. So, to dummy or not to dummy: here’s some useful information.
The pros of using a soother
Using a soother in the early months of life can be a great way to help calm a fussy, unsettled baby. Sucking is hugely powerful in the first weeks and months of life and by using a dummy you can help to engage the calming reflex.
It is possible to use the dummy in between feeds when your baby just wants to suck and not eat, provided that you have established your feeding. If you are breastfeeding, then you may want to delay the use of a dummy until at least 6 weeks to ensure that feeding is established properly.
Furthermore, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome guidelines suggest that using a dummy can help reduce the risk of cot death. Used in these ways, without dipping in syrups and properly sterilised, they can really help in the early days. However you may need to think it through carefully.
Although SIDS guidelines suggest that parents should continue using the dummy for the first 12 months once used at all, always seek the advice and consent from your GP before making any decisions.
The cons of using a soother
Commonly, beyond four to five months of age the dummy use can start to go against you. Suddenly you may find that your baby wakes frequently needing the soother to be re-plugged countless times overnight and during naps in the day or indeed your baby may only nap for 20-30 minutes and not return to sleep at all.
This is when the dummy becomes a sleep prop and parents should be mindful of the following. If your baby sucks to go to sleep, even if the dummy falls out of the mouth once asleep, often the dummy will need to be replaced for them to continue through their natural sleep phases.
Dummies are a sleep prop. This can mean some parents replace the dummy 20+ times overnight. Considerably broken sleep for all involved. Don’t let this worry you: it doesn’t mean you have to discontinue the use of it in most cases. In fact, well rested children will need less and maybe no dummy runs in the overnight period.
Typically, countless dummy runs are caused by inadequate day sleep and bedtime being too late. A great night for a dummy-user is no runs. A normal night would be one-two until you can teach your baby to use the dummy independently; this skill emerges closer to eight months plus and even then you may still have to re-plug as they get stuck, fall out of the cot and need help to find the soother.
Excessive dummy re plugs would be three plus overnight. If, in your opinion, having to get up and re plug even one-two times a night is excessive then maybe you need to review your dummy use. Speak with your GP and decide what is appropriate for you.
Dropping the dummy
If your baby is 18 weeks plus and if you agree to discontinue the use of the soother, it is best dropped at bedtime and replaced with a sleep learning technique such as a gradual retreat or pick up put down sleep training method. It would then be advisable to discontinue using same throughout the night and into the following day for naps.
It typically takes two to three days for a baby to get over the dummy, but you may still use it for non-sleep time. If this is what you decide, then it is nice to replace the dummy with a safe, breathable security item that you tuck in with your baby at sleep times.
Another, more gradual technique suitable for babies under six months would be using the dummy at the onset of sleep and attempting to remove the soother before they actually fall asleep. This can often be an exercise in frustration for parent and baby, but hugely effective for some easy-going temperament type babies.
If your baby is closer to eight to nine months then it can become more challenging to take the dummy away; lots of parents see this as their only source of comfort and are reluctant to do so. This still doesn’t mean that you should be getting up more than twice overnight.
First ensure that your child is well-rested and that sleep times are age appropriate and that (with the exception the soother) your child is an independent sleeper. This means able to be put them into the cot and they are able to knock off to sleep without any other intervention such as rocking or bottles. In this instance and age group, you teach your baby to be independent of you in the context of their sleep. Put the dummy into their hand and guide their hand to mouth. Overtime, allow your baby find the dummy themselves by swiping their hand around the cot. I am not in favour of using more than one dummy at a time in the cot. The only real gimmick I might suggest to aid this process is a Sleepytot™.
Even in this under 12 month age range if you had the mind to off load the dummy and your GP consented, then I would do the same as the above. It may be emotional at the start but your baby will process the change within a few days.
Beyond 12 months, if you are still using a dummy, then I suggest that you are potentially stuck with it now until closer to two to two and a half years of age when you can reason and explain your motives for taking away what may well be their security item at this stage.
If you are planning to stop using the dummy, it can also be useful to start limiting the daytime use for a few days in advance of the big night. If you attempt to drop the dummy and it is more stressful and emotional then you would like it to be – provide the dummy and review your soother situation at a later date. Good luck!
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org
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