Dummies: Do or Don't?

Dummies, pacifiers, binkies, soothers… they have lots of different names. But are they a good idea?

In western countries, around 75% of children use a dummy at some point in their childhood. However, despite their huge popularity, dummies are surrounded by a large amount of conflicting information: can they really protect against cot-death, or will they just make your little one’s teeth grow in at an odd angle? Can they cause ear infections, or is that just a rumour?

We know that every parent only wants the very best for their child, and whether or not to use a dummy can be a difficult decision to make. To help you out, we’ve collected together all the information and research on dummies we can find, so you can make a fully informed decision. Let’s go!


According to the American Dental Association, non-nutritive sucking (that is, sucking on something that doesn’t provide food, such as a breast or bottle), is a natural urge in babies, and one that starts in the womb. As such, sucking on a dummy or finger can help a child self-soothe, which in turn may help them sleep. This soothing capability can be particularly helpful if your little one is undergoing stress, such as becoming familiar with a new environment or undergoing a medical procedure.

Sucking Substitute 
Babies aren’t just hardwired for non-nutritive sucking, of course. For babies, sucking means survival, as it’s how they get their food! 

However, we know that breastfeeding is not possible or even desirable for every parent. According to the National Childbirth Trust, a dummy can satisfy the urge to suck in babies being fed by alternative methods.

Reduction in Risk of SIDS
This can be a slightly controversial topic, as some experts recommend dummies, while others disagree on the connection between dummies and SIDS (also known as sudden cot death).

Looking into it, the reason for confusion is clear: there simply isn’t enough research. While there is a strong correlation between using a dummy to go to sleep and a reduced risk of SIDS, some experts have expressed doubt as the reasons for this correlation are unknown. According the NCT, reasons could include:
  • Babies are less likely to roll onto their tummies and get stuck with their face against the mattress.
  • Parents may check on babies more often if they know they have a dummy in their mouth.
  • The dummy may help to keep the baby’s tongue forward.

However, whether the link between dummies and SIDS risk is causal or not, the fact remains that a meta-analysis of various cot-death studies found a 52-61% decrease in risk of SIDS among babies that use dummies to fall asleep - a correlation that simply cannot be ignored.

Better than Thumbs or Fingers
As we’ve already mentioned, babies have a natural urge to suck, so it’s not uncommon for children to develop a sucking habit. In these cases, dummies may provide a safer and easier-to-wean alternative to fingers and thumbs.

For one, a properly sterilised dummy can be easier to keep clean than those explorative toddler hands. Additionally, as dummies are not physically attached to your child, taking them away to avoid temptation and keep sucking to set times is much simpler!

On top of this, orthopedic dummies are now available, which, while still not good for teeth, are better than the classic ones for avoiding ‘pacifier mouth’ (more on this below). So, some parents find that, if their little one sucks their fingers a lot, a dummy is a great first step on the road to weaning.

Perfect for the Jet-setting Baby
Ever had that awful headache from the pressure change in an aeroplane? If you happen to travel a lot with your little one, sucking on a dummy can relieve the discomfort of take off and landing, the same way adults use boiled sweets!


Nipple Confusion
To you or I, the action of sucking on a bottle or a breast might appear identical. However, a study in 2014 revealed just how different they are.

In order to breastfeed, a baby must open their mouth wide to get the nipple and part of the areola deep inside. They then use their tongue and lower jaw to hold the breast in place, before using their gums and tongue to compress the areola and draw the milk out.

Sucking on a bottle or a dummy, however, is completely different. No matter what position their mouth and tongue are in, they’ll be able to get the satisfaction they’re looking for. Nipple confusion occurs when the baby essentially gets mixed up between the breast and the dummy or bottle, and struggles to feed.

For this reason, if you are breastfeeding, the NHS recommends you’ve developed a good milk supply and your baby is routinely feeding successfully. This could be around the four to six week mark. If you’re not breastfeeding, however, you don’t need to worry so much about this!

Dummies can get dirty surprisingly easily, and hard-to-spot cracks or holes can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Because of this, one study found that children who use dummies are up to three times more likely to suffer from otitis media (a middle ear infection).

You probably saw this one coming! Using a dummy for an extended amount of time can cause a number of dental problems. These could include an overbite, or teeth not meeting properly at the front. These, in turn, can affect the ability to bite down properly and speech development.

Speech Development
 According to Speech and Language Specialist, Lydia Jones, the use of dummies can delay speech development, or encourage unclear speech:

“Once a child starts to make sounds, persistent dummy use can impact on babbling and experimentation of sounds. When a child has a dummy in their mouth they are less likely to copy sounds an adult makes or to attempt to babble and play with sounds themselves. These are important skills for speech development.  Your child may not be able to make the full range of tongue movements necessary for making all the speech sounds if they frequently have a dummy in their mouth”.

The Premature Exception

Now, these pros and cons apply to the majority of babies, but not all. If a baby is born prematurely or is very unwell in the first few months of life, they may gain some additional benefits from using an orthopaedic dummy early on, according to the NHS. These benefits could include:
  • Strengthening the muscles in the face required for sucking.
  • Encouraging the sucking reflex, especially when dummy-use is combined with tube-feeding.
  • Soothing the baby during painful or stressful procedures.
  • Aiding sleep, which in turn can reduce the amount of energy expended and speed up weight gain and growth.
  • Stimulating the stomach to produce digestive juices, helping them to tolerate feeds more frequently.

If your little one is born prematurely or very unwell, talk to your doctor to find out whether a dummy is right for your baby.

Good Dummy Practice

So, you’ve decided to use a dummy, but want to reduce the risk of any of the negative effects as much as possible. Here are a few pointers:

  • Wait until your baby is ready.
    As we mentioned above, dummies can cause nipple confusion or make it harder to read your baby’s hunger signals. If you’re breastfeeding, try to wait until your little one has a good feeding routine before trying a dummy.
  • Don’t use it for too long.
    Dummies are great soothers, but the risks to teeth and speech mean they are not a long-term solution. The NHS recommends weaning off dummies at around a year old, although it should be noted that some other countries wait until 3 or even 4 years old, as this is when children naturally begin to stop wanting to suck fingers and thumbs.
    If you’re worried about your little one’s sucking habit at this age, try talking to them about why the habit can be bad for them, and come up with some alternative soothing solutions together.
  • Be consistent.
    Many experts recommend keeping dummies for bedtimes and abnormally stressful situations such as medical procedures. Try to stick to giving your little one their dummy when you put them down to sleep, whether at night or a nap.
  • Keep it clean.
    Remember to regularly sterilise your little one’s dummy, and keep checking it for splits, holes and cracks. If they occur, throw the dummy away and replace it with a new one.
  • Avoid treats.
    Never dip the dummy in sugar, honey or other yummy sweet treats. This is a very common cause of severe tooth decay!
  • Stay safe.
    Don’t use a dummy that has a cord or any other attachments, as these can be choking or suffocation hazards.
  • Opt for Orthodontic.
    Orthodontic dummies are specially designed to have the minimum possible impact on your little one’s dental development. If you’re opting for a dummy, try to get hold of one of these!

So, I hope the information collected here helps you to make an informed decision about dummies and your own children. If you have any questions, or want to share your experiences, drop us a message on our Instagram! We love to hear from you.

Content Creator at MEplace

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