Updated: Mar 23
Our babies are born with an innate need to suck. It is totally natural and for many newborns sucking on a dummy is a godsend!
Non-nutritive sucking (this means sucking while not consuming milk) has a real calming and soothing effect on our newborns. It actually helps relieve discomfort and pain as well as producing saliva which has helpful digestive enzymes to make your little one pass wind more easily and keep them comfortable. The downward pressure of the dummy on your babies tongue can also help release burps. One tip is if you are struggling to burp your baby, try holding a dummy in as you burp them – it can often relax them helping them release gas more easily.
One of my babies was particularly ‘sucky’, he was my reflux baby and the dummy (and often a clean finger) really did help me stop feeding him constantly which contributed to his wind and digestive discomfit. If I didn’t have the dummy for him, he’d need to suck on the breast nonstop and then we were in a really vicious cycle with him drinking too much and being in pain. We know our little one’s struggle to relax and settle when they are uncomfortable.
Sucking is also one of the 5 S’s that I teach when it comes to newborn sleep. Dr Harvey Karp’s forth trimester research finds sucking stimulates the calming reflex for our babies. Dummies are also proven to lower the risk of SIDS. So there are some awesome reasons to use a dummy! However, there is a BUT and another side to things where dummy usage does impact negatively on sleep. I love dummies prior to 4 months but from there on in they can become problematic and this is when I recommend we ditch the dummy.
But why?! My babies settles to sleep and loves the dummy so why should I remove it?! Obviously this is a personal choice, but I’ll give you my reason for removing the dummy. Around 4 months is when your babies sleep cycles mature and become defined. Every time they have a naturally occurring wake through the night (around 2-4 hourly) if they have gone to sleep sucking on the dummy and stir through a sleep cycle, they will likely wake up and realise its not in their mouth and they don’t know how to resettle! So they’ll cry out needing you to replace it in order to resettle again. This means ‘dummy runs’ through the night when they stir. Whilst 1 or 2 pop ins overnight may not be a big deal initially, they don’t have the developmental skills to be able to pop the dummy in themselves until around 7-8 months of age and need us to do it. One wakeup may turn into them waking every 2 hours which is a natural sleep cycle for them and we are far better to teach them resettling skills without relying on the dummy. The dummy ends up becoming not just a calming tool but the only way that your little one can fall asleep tool!
It can become really exhausting for everyone and I know first hand how hard this trap is! Which is way I encourage parents to ditch the dummy around 4 months and work on teaching your little one how to self settle.
If you need a couple more reasons on why to ditch the dummy (like the 2 hourly replacing through the night isn’t enough of an incentive…nudge nudge) then there is also the fact that dummies are hard to keep clean and harbour loads of germs! Not to mention there is research out there that links dummy usage with recurrent middle ear infections – ouch! In our toddlers dentists recommend limiting dummy usage by age 2 as the sucking can lead to problems with speech and chewing!
If, however, your little one is already over 7-8 months and very attached to their dummy, you may choose to teach them to find and replace the dummy themselves so that you don’t have to do it for them throughout the night. I recommend using a Sleepytot or a Gobstopperz soothing accessory. You can use my discount code JUSTLOVESLEEP15 at www.gobstopperz.co.nz or justlovesleep15 at www.sleepytot.co.nz This makes finding the dummy much easier for your little one. To teach your little one how to find and replace I suggest the following:
When your baby wants their dummy, start with putting the cuddly in their hand and gently guide it to their mouth. Do this whenever they want the dummy during the day. At night, when you do a check-in, put the dummy back in their hand instead of straight into their mouth. Do this for a few nights, or until they start putting the dummy in their mouth without your help. Make a big deal whenever they master this by themselves. Celebrate with lots of praise! It's a good idea to practice this during the day time too.
Next, put their cuddly next to them instead of in their hand. During the day, encourage them to pick it up from next to them rather than putting it in their hand. You can guide their hand to the comforter if necessary. Now at night, only put the comforter next to them and pat the cot mattress to encourage them to find it. Make a big deal when they do it themselves.
I know ditching the dummy can be a daunting prospect. Truly… the thought of 2 babies screaming and no way to plug them when out and about really made my knees shake with my twins. But I knew they didn’t have the skills to put them back in themselves and I would watch them stir through those sleep cycles and sure enough when we taught them resettling skills, they would pass through sleep cycles with ease, as opposed to getting distressed because they couldn’t find their dummies! Not to mention how frustrating it was tip toeing in their room and crawling under the cot trying to find the glow in the dark dummy we got ‘suckered’ (excuse the pun) into buying which wasn’t so glowing when I needed it to be!
If you’re struggling with your little one’s sleep and want help resolving dummy struggles, check out my packages here.