Who would have thought back when you were longing to become a parent that you’d be weighing up the pros and cons of dummies!? There really are two sides to the dummy coin as they can be really great used as settling tools but can also cause a lot of sleep troubles too.
But all the confusion can be simplified with answers to a few key questions. This blog is especially helpful for:
- Families with a newborn – how can a dummy assist
- Families of a baby less than 8 months – is it hindering or helping sleep
- Families of a toddler – when is a good time to remove and say goodbye
If you have a little one who loves their dummy- I have stacks of advice for you and if you have a newborn and want to know which path to take keep reading also.
It doesn’t take long to realise dummies are a very personal choice, however if we look at the pros and cons you can arrive at a decision feeling balanced and informed with your approach.
What are the pros and cons with dummies?
From newborn to toddler, dummies can be a great settling tool, but let’s break the dummy concept down into 3 key stages to identify both the positives and negatives when it comes to dummies and sleep.
The Newborn Stage
Babies are born with a strong sucking reflex . This is one of the key pillars of the 5’s to settle a newborn baby so dummies can be really helpful to soothe and calm a newborn under 3-4 months of age. (We can assess the dummy’s long-term role later) but for now, if it soothes your baby and achieves sleep, it prevents an overtired baby which makes it a positive.
Expert tip: A dummy can be introduced from newborn, but only after breastfeeding is established (this is to prevent nipple confusion in the early days). Also ensure that you do not use a dummy to space out feeds to set times on a “routine”. Newborns need to be fed on demand as their tummies are tiny and they are working to establish your milk supply in the early days.
The Toddler Stage
At 2.5 years plus we can chat to our toddler, who now has the cognitive understanding, and can be prepared and readied for when their dummy can be used and how to wean off its use when the time is right.
Expert Tip: At this age, you can put a plan in place to limit the dummy to set times such as only naps and bedtime and put it somewhere special (like a cup by the bed) each time they wake.
The Tricky Middle Stage
Between 4-8 months of age your little one may develop a strong like for their dummy (but won’t have mastered the art of finding and replacing it).
The Four Month Sleep Regression often shows the dummy’s “true colours”.
This is where you need to make the decision to continue popping the dummy back in until they can learn to do it themselves or remove the dummy and teach the art of self-settling without reliance on an external sleep prop.
Which leads me to the next regularly asked question….
Why is the dummy considered a common culprit for sleep troubles?
In short, it is an external sleep prop which means your baby is relying on something external to put them to sleep initially and they will need to physically learn to find and replace it between sleep cycles if they wish to use it successfully long-term.
At this point you might be thinking, ‘my little one only uses the dummy for 2 minutes to fall asleep and then it drops out, so it doesn’t impact on their ability to stay asleep’ but when all things are considered, whether it’s 2 minutes or 20 minutes, if your little one needs a dummy to help them join their next sleep cycle, then your little one has a reliance on the dummy.
Something to be conscious of is the skill to learn to find and replace the dummy independently doesn’t typically occur until around 7-8 months of age. Think about how tricky you find it in the middle of the night to locate and replace in the dark, I see you Mumma with the spares on the change table “just in case”. Now imagine being a baby and trying to do this independently between sleep cycles whilst still partially asleep and even potentially still swaddled under 4-6 months of age.
Now if you do decide to keep the dummy long-term and your little one is under the age of 7-8 months, know that they are going to need to provide some extra help and this may mean multiple dummy runs throughout the day and night as they’ll struggle (just like you) to find it in the cot between sleep cycles which can be as frequently as 2-4 hourly overnight (that’s a blog for another day).
The good news is, if your baby is over 7 months of age, in accordance with Red Nose Guidelines, you can introduce a comforter which can aid in the process of teaching your baby to find and replace their own dummy. Kippins is my brand of choice. Their comforters are made from lightweight, breathable organic cotton material and BONUS they can hold up to 4 dummies in the corner knots.
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How do we successfully say goodbye to the dummy?
If your baby is under 7-8 months of age saying goodbye to the dummy is best done “cold turkey”. Often the prospect as a parent of removing the dummy is more daunting than the actual process of doing it. If you decide to remove the dummy, be confident to choose a settling approach that suits your little one’s temperament and your parenting style. This will ensure you don’t “swap the prop” ie don’t accidentally replace the dummy with something else like rocking in arms. We want to establish healthy sleep habits that are sustainable long-term.
Do expect it to be a little rough for 2-3 days as your baby adjusts to learning to fall asleep without the sucking motion, but know that it will benefit their sleep long-term as they learn to internally reference how they fall asleep which makes going back to sleep quicker and easier.
If your little one is over 2.5 years of age and you are ready to remove the dummy for good, then you can decide on a date you’re going to remove it and talk with your toddler about this upcoming event.
Expert Tip: For the easiest transition possible, ensure you’ve already limited the dummy in the lead up to this occurring.
Ideas for saying goodbye to dummy and making it a fun experience
- Go on a ‘dummy hunt’ and pack up all dummies
- Leave them under the tree outside
- Drop them off at the post office
- Deliver them to the new babies at childcare
- Exchange the dummies for a small gift and a special note congratulating your toddler on this new milestone.
After the dummy exchange, strap yourself in for 2-3 days as there may be some big emotions, which we want to acknowledge and help them to understand and regulate. Ensure that you are patient, supportive and understanding – knowing there is no going back. You’ve got this.
I set out at the beginning of this blog to help parents know their options with both making a dummy work and saying goodbye to the dummy too. If you feel it’s too soon to remove the dummy or feel you’ve left it too late to send the dummies on their way, know that we can absolutely figure it out together with the right approach of consistency and support.
Think the dummy is playing a role in your little one’s sleep and want to put together an action plan moving forward. Register for a 15 minute discovery call to discuss our options for working one-on-one together.
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