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Should you give your baby a dummy? Opinion is divided. We discuss the pros and cons.

UK psychologist and child development expert Penelope Leach says in her parenting book, Your Baby & Child, that you should not assume your baby needs a dummy. However, if your baby is unsettled and you find a dummy does help, give it for just a few months and preferably only at bedtime.

 for …

It will  encourage your baby to self-soothe and is a convenient distraction if they are niggly. Various studies, including one by the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggest that sucking on a dummy may reduce the risk of cot death, or Sudden Infant Death syndrome, although this evidence is not conclusive.

Many mothers view dummies as a more palatable alternative to thumb-sucking. Dummies may be given to a premature baby to help develop a weak sucking reflex.

… and against

Linda Thompson, a Cape Town-based speech and language therapist, cautions that prolonged use dummies could hamper speech development.

Thompson says prolonged sucking of dummies or digits, such as the thumb, for six hours or more a day, has been associated with the development of an anterior bite. This means that when your child bites down on their back teeth, there is a gap between the upper and lower front teeth.

When the soft, malleable cells in a child’s top jaw are replaced with hard bone cells, from about the age of four, the top arch will conform to the shape of the object being sucked. An orthodontist can operate to close the gap when the child is older, but this procedure is invasive and costly, says Thompson. Prevention is better than cure.

Read more about soothing a teething or sick baby

important to know

It may prove difficult to wean your child off the dummy. Children should ideally not be using them after the age of one and definitely not after the age of four, when it could affect their speech and chewing, says Pretoria-based dentist, Dr Emil Jansen.

Lactation experts advise that dummy-sucking may interfere with breast-feeding, and therefore encourage mothers to introduce them only once latching has been successfully established. Barbara Chambers, a Cape Town midwife, says one of the reasons dummies are not recommended is that they “dumb down” communication between the baby and their mother. With a dummy in the mouth, the baby cannot indicate that he is hungry.

There are also possible links between the use of dummies and ear infections as well as snoring and sleep apnoea.

dummy dos and don’ts

  • Make sure the base of the dummy has holes to prevent a rash from forming. Also, buy a dummy that is the right size for your baby’s face.
  • Opt for dummies without bisphenol A (BPA), an organic compound linked to increased cancer risks.
  • Make sure they are clean and sterilised. Avoid “rinsing” the dummy by putting it in your mouth, as you could pass on germs.
  • Replace torn or cracked dummies that are. They should never be dipped in juice or sweet food as this could damage your child’s teeth.
  • If baby is bottle-fed, try to select a dummy from the same brand as the bottle. The teats should be same or very similar.

Mothers’ dummy-ditching tips

Claire* weaned her son off his dummies by cutting down his supply to only three. Eventually there was no dummy left to suck on.

Sophia* decided to chuck the dummy before her son turned two. “We simply said that dummies were for babies and that he couldn’t have them any more. We kept it simple and worked on the theory that it takes three days to break a habit. He cried for a bit and then just accepted it.”

*Names have been changed for privacy.