Positive Relationships: A parent's guide to... Dummy use

Should you give your child a dummy? It's a seemingly simple question but a difficult one to answer. Only you can decide whether your child should have one, but it is worth weighing up the pros and cons.

Q: Why do parents give their children dummies?

Most babies have a strong sucking reflex. Giving babies a dummy can soothe them and help them to settle more quickly, as part of the sleep routine. It has been found that during the first six months, putting a child to sleep with a dummy can halve the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death), though the reason for this is still unknown.

The Department of Health and the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) recommend putting a dummy in a baby's mouth as they are going to sleep. If a baby wakes during the night, the dummy should be put back in, but there is no need to replace it if it falls out while the baby is sleeping.

If a dummy is the only way of stopping your baby crying or of getting them to sleep, that has to be better than becoming distressed. Your baby benefits from having a calm and relaxed parent.

Q: Why do some health professionals object to children using dummies?

The risks associated with dummies are often linked to prolonged use. Babies may spend less time breastfeeding because it reduces their desire to suck or causes problems when learning how to latch on to the breast. It is advisable that parents establish breastfeeding before giving their child a dummy.

In young children, a dummy can lead to:

- speech and language problems - children cannot form sounds properly if a dummy is restricting their tongue movement

- infections of the middle ear, caused by constant sucking. These may lead to hearing problems and delayed speech

- dental problems - these include a delay in the eruption of milk teeth and malocclusion of the jaw, where the 'bite' is not correctly in place

- stomach upsets - caused by dirty dummies

- dribbling for longer

- an habitual open-mouthed posture

- persistent tongue thrust, and

- fewer opportunities to babble and communicate with parents and carers.

Q: If I choose to use a dummy should I set guidelines?

Setting firm rules for when a dummy is used should help to stop your child and you from becoming dependent on it. You should never use a dummy to keep your child quiet.

Limiting the time that a child uses a dummy will help avoid problems. If you introduce boundaries, be firm and stick to them! Your rule could be that a dummy is only used in bed and stays in the bedroom, or that dummies are not taken outside the home or nursery.

Health professionals advise against children over 12 months old using dummies because many of the health problems occur after this age.

Q: My child has become dependent on her dummy. How do I wean her off it?

Some children wake up one day and don't want their dummy, but others take time to stop the habit. It may take persistence to get rid of the dummy, so do it when you're not under pressure. Some parents gradually reduce the times that they give their child a dummy while others pick a date and ban all dummy use from that day.

You may choose to give the child a treat in return for them relinquishing their dummy. Other methods can include giving the dummy to Santa or the tooth fairy.

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