Dummies or pacifiers! – Whatever you call them, this is a subject that often comes up for speech therapists working with younger children. Are they a problem? Will they affect speech development? When and how can you get rid of them? So today I am going to try and answer some of these questions. This advice will be suitable for most typically developing children.
Some babies find sucking soothing and they can play a part in settling a baby to sleep. This is often the reason that parents start to use dummies. There is also some support for dummies helping premature babies learn to suck. I would never tell a parent not to use a dummy with a baby.
There are a number of disadvantages to using a dummy. As a speech therapist I am concerned with the impact on a child’s speech and language development.
When a baby has a dummy in their mouth for a long time, it can reduce their babble and also how they play with sounds and words. They are also less likely to copy sounds from an adult. These are crucial skills for speech and language development.
Excessive dummy use is also linked to dental problems such as an open bite or teeth being distorted. It can also cause the muscles at the front of the mouth to become over developed compared to those at the back. This can cause tongue thrust – where the tongue is pushed forward in the mouth, which in turn can push teeth forward.
As sucking opens the Eustachian tube (the little tube that links the ear and the mouth), prolonged use of a dummy can lead to an increase in middle ear infection. It allows more time for bacteria to travel from the mouth to the ear.
When should a child stop using a dummy?
For most children, try and stop using a dummy by the time they are a year old. You can gradually wean them off using a dummy however it can often be best to stop and make a clean break. If you are going to do this, remember to throw away ALL the dummies in the house and your car and your bag etc Babies will normally only fuss for 2 or 3 days.
If your child is older and you want to stop using a dummy, it often helps to involve your child. Get them to help you find all the dummies in the house. I know some families that have spoken about how grown up the child is now and ‘exchanged’ the dummies for a little gift or toy. I also know some families that say that they are sending the dummies to the dummy fairy or to little babies that need them. Then you pack up all the dummies with your child and actually post them somewhere!
How should dummies be used?
- If your toddler is still using a dummy, always remove it if they are trying to talk.
- Only use it for a few minutes to help settle your child.
- Remember that crying is a communication. Try and work out what your baby/ child wants first rather than using the dummy straight away.
- Try and limit dummy use to sleep or nap time.