Sucking on a dummy, or pacifier, can soothe many babies. If you’re deciding whether to use a dummy, there are some things to think about first.
Deciding whether or not to use a dummy
Evidence shows that babies who use dummies have less risk of sudden infant death syndrome, although we don’t know why. They are also more likely to settle more easily.
The downsides of using a dummy are that it has the potential to interfere with breastfeeding and is associated with a higher risk of wheezing, ear and tummy infections, accidents and dental problems.
When to introduce a dummy
There is a theory that introducing a dummy before breastfeeding is well established in newborns can interfere with breastfeeding because the baby needs to use a different sucking technique. If you decide to use a dummy, consider waiting until breastfeeding is well established, usually at around 4 to 6 weeks. Dummies should not interfere with breastfeeding in older babies.
Bottle-fed babies can have a dummy from birth.
If your baby has a lot of ear infections, or if you’re having problems with breastfeeding, sore nipples or thrush, then the dummy might be the culprit.
But all babies are different. You can talk to a health professional such as your GP or child health nurse for advice.
Start thinking about phasing out dummies at around 12 months. By 2 to 4 years, children should not be using dummies as this can affect their teeth.
How to use a dummy
To ensure that dummy-sucking doesn’t interfere with feeding, it’s best to offer it only when you can be sure your baby isn’t hungry, such as after or between feeds.
Offer the dummy every time your baby goes to sleep. But don’t force them to take it, and don’t put it back in their mouth if it drops out while they’re asleep.
Make sure you always have spares on hand. Your baby is bound to drop the dummy somewhere without you noticing, then get upset when it’s needed.
Keeping the dummy clean
Clean and sterilise your baby’s dummies every day and keep them in their container when not in use. Never put a dummy in your mouth (to ‘clean’ it) and never put any food or other substance (such as honey) on a dummy.
From about 6 months, your child will be more resistant to infections. This means you need only to wash the dummy with soap and water, rather than sterilising it. Just make sure to squeeze out any fluid that gets inside.
Safety tips for dummies
It is very important to check the dummy regularly to see if it's worn or degraded, as babies can choke on any loose bits.
- Choose a dummy that complies with Australian standard AS 2432:2015.
- Every time you give the dummy to your baby, pull firmly on the teat and tug the handle and ring to ensure they don't give way under pressure.
- Check the teat for wear and tear. If it looks worn or damaged, throw the dummy away.
- Store dummies away from direct sunlight, which can cause the rubber or silicone to wear out.
- Sterilise dummies or wash them in hot soapy water; then rinse and air dry.
- Regularly buy new dummies as constant use and washing can make them weak.
- Never attach dummies with a ribbon or cord as these could strangle your baby.
- Watch children who can remove dummies themselves as they're more likely to try to place an entire dummy into their mouth, not just the teat.
- Never give children imitation flashing dummies as these can make them choke.
- Avoid using dummies when babies and toddlers are teething or have developed teeth as chewing may cause the teat to tear off and they could choke.
Using the dummy independently
From 8 months of age, most babies can learn to put their own dummy in.
- When you put your baby to bed, put their hand onto the dummy, then guide it into their mouth.
- Every time you are putting the dummy back in, put your baby's hand on it and then guide it into their mouth.
It can take 3 to 4 nights or longer for babies to learn how to replace the dummy by themselves.
An alternative to dummy use is finger or thumb sucking. This is normal and common. An advantage over dummies is that babies can find their own fingers easily when they need them, but you can’t ban fingers when your child gets bigger. Luckily, most kids give up finger-sucking all by themselves.
Giving up the dummy
When you're ready to stop or reduce your child's use of a dummy, make sure you choose the right time. Don't try to do it when you or your child are stressed, or when other changes are happening in your child's life.
Talk to your child about giving up the dummy. Then start cutting back on the times in the day when they have the dummy. For example, only use it in the car or the cot. This gives them a chance to get used to being without it.
Once they are comfortable without the dummy, set a time and a date and then take the dummy away. Make it a big celebration or give your child a special reward.
Expect there to be some protests. You can offer them a blanket or a teddy for comfort instead. But try not to go back and give them the dummy again.
Remember, sucking a dummy never becomes a lifelong habit. Many children will stop using a dummy by themselves.
Comforters and thumbs
Comforters are an object that a child uses to help relax and can include blankets, soft toys or thumbs. If you see that your child is choosing a special blanket or soft toy, you could buy another one like it, so that they can both wear out at the same pace and can be changed when one needs washing.
Not all children have comforters. But they are very important for the children who do use them.
Sucking thumbs or fingers is natural in babies and young children. Most children grow out of finger-sucking around 2 to 4 years of age.
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Last reviewed: October 2020