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Dummies and comforters

9-minute read

Key Facts

  • Dummies and comforters can help babies to soothe and settle more easily.
  • When used consistently, dummies can reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • It’s important to make sure breastfeeding is well established before offering a dummy.
  • Parents need to frequently check their baby’s dummy or comforter for safety.
  • Prolonged used of a dummy (beyond 4 years of age) can lead to tooth alignment problems.

Should I give my baby a dummy or comforter?

The choice of which to use is up to you and your baby. Be mindful of not offering your newborn baby a dummy until breastfeeding is well established — this is usually the first 4 to 6 weeks after birth. Comforters are not recommended for babies aged less than 7 months.

Many babies like to suck on a dummy or hold a comforter when they’re settling themselves to sleep. Some babies have a very strong sucking urge which isn’t fully satisfied by feeding. Offering a dummy can be a solution to unsettled periods in-between their feeds. There is strong evidence that dummies are associated with a reduced risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) when they are used consistently.

Even when they’re awake, babies can be soothed by sucking on a dummy (pacifier) or holding a familiar toy, also called a ‘cuddly’. All babies have their own preferences — some prefer to suck on a dummy, others build an emotional attachment to a toy and some babies like to have both.

The most popular comforter options are soft toys, or squares of soft fabric. Babies can also develop an attachment to an item of their parent’s clothing or a toy that was owned by an older sibling. It’s not always clear why a particular toy becomes so important to a young child. For some unknown reason, they develop a connection to a comforter, independent of their parent’s input.

What is safe to use for my baby?

Whether you choose to offer your baby a dummy or a comforter, it’s important that you make sure they are safe.

When offering your baby a comforter:

  • check your baby’s comforter is in sound condition and doesn’t pose a risk to their safety
  • avoid offering your baby a comforter with a dummy attached
  • don’t use any soft toys as comforters in your baby’s sleeping environment until they are 7 months of age because of the risk of suffocation
  • don’t use comforters that contain batteries or have loose ties

Safety tips for dummies

There are several things to be know and do if your child uses a dummy.

  • Dummies and dummy chains bought in Australia need to meet an Australian Standard for safety. This covers all components of the dummy being free from any sharp edges, the size of the dummy meeting a minimum size and the teat being smooth and intact so no fluid can leak inside.
  • Replace your baby’s dummy when it is showing signs of wear. Also check the manufacturer’s recommendations on when the dummy needs to be replaced.
  • Never use a ribbon or a cord to attach your baby’s dummy to their clothing or bed linen.
  • Avoid leaving your baby’s dummy in the sunlight or in hot areas, like the car; this can cause dummies to perish.
  • Check your baby’s dummy each time you offer it to them. Make sure the teat, shield and handle are all firmly attached and won’t separate under pressure.
  • Never dip a dummy in honey or other sweet foods or drinks. This can lead to tooth decay.
  • Always follow good hygiene practices with your child’s dummy. There is a risk of infection from dummies if they are picked up from the floor or shared with other children.
  • Babies who have chronic or recurrent otitis media (middle ear infections) should have restricted dummy use.

Also check that your baby’s dummy:

  • is the right size for your baby so it can’t fit fully into their mouth and block their airway
  • has parts that are firmly connected — the teat of the dummy and surrounding seal should not be able to detach because this is a choking hazard
  • has ventilation holes in the shield

When can my baby start using a dummy?

If you are breastfeeding, try not to offer your baby a dummy until breastfeeding has been established, which is usually after the first 4 to 6 weeks. Dummies can be offered to bottle-fed babies from birth. It’s normal for breastfed babies to want to comfort feed and use the breast as a way of calming. Try to follow your baby’s cues which will give you some understanding of what they want.

How do I keep dummies clean?

Dummies need to be rinsed in cold water after use and then washed in soap and hot water. Dummies should also be sterilised in the same way as other feeding equipment. Boiling, steam or chemical sterlising are all safe ways to clean dummies.

Can dummies help with teething?

When they’re teething, many children become more ‘oral’, wanting to chew and suck for comfort. Babies who are already used to sucking on a dummy may want to have it more often and fuss if the dummy isn’t in their mouth.

What are amber beads?

An amber bead teething necklace is a string of round amber chips the child wears around their neck. The amber forms from fossilised tree resin, which is shaped into rounded, small beads that are threaded onto a piece of string or cord. Manufacturers claim the resin has anti-inflammatory properties once warmed by the child’s skin and can help to soothe a child’s swollen, sore gums.

Amber bead anklets and bracelets are also available, although necklaces are the most popular. The beads come in a range of colours, from white to yellow and from beige to brown.

Are amber bead necklaces safe?

Amber bead necklaces and bracelets are not safe to use. They are a strangulation hazard to children if they tighten around the child’s neck. They can also break, and the child could inhale the beads if they mouth or chew the necklace. Some necklaces have a magnetic clasp which, if swallowed, could cause gut perforation.

There is no clear evidence that amber bead necklaces or jewellery help to soothe a teething child.

If you do choose to use amber beads, you should:

  • always supervise your child when they are wearing amber bead necklaces, bracelets or anklets
  • remove any amber bead jewellery before you leave your child alone and when they go to sleep
  • never let your child chew on the amber beads

When should my baby stop using a dummy?

Most children stop their sucking habits between 2 and 4 years of age. As a general guide, sucking on a dummy or thumb sucking is not a problem for children unless they are still sucking on either of these when their permanent teeth start erupting. Stopping your baby from using a dummy before then reduces the risk of their teeth being misaligned.

It’s also useful to limit dummies just for sleep times. Speech development can be affected if a child is sucking on a dummy for long periods of time.

How can I help wean my child off the dummy?

You can either stop offering your baby their dummy altogether, or slowly reduce the times you offer it. Most babies have an emotional and physical attachment to their dummy, and it can take a couple of days to adjust to not having it anymore. It can help to offer them comfort in other ways, with lots of soothing and extra cuddles until they become used to not having their dummy.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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Last reviewed: October 2022

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