Dummies, pacifiers, comforters or soothers have been used by mothers for centuries to soothe and calm their babies. There is a dummy debate that has been going for a long time as whilst there are some parents who feel they couldn’t live without them, there are other parents who detest them.

Pacifiers/dummies are a standard silicone or rubber teat with a plastic or silicone mouth shield and handle. There are latex pacifiers which are softer than silicone but they do not last as long. They can be sterilised and the mouth shield stops the baby swallowing and choking on the teat. You can buy orthodontic pacifiers which are shaped to encourage the baby to suck in the same way as they would if they were breastfeeding.

Pacifiers are very powerful soothers as they allow your child to suckle, an activity they find very calming. Sucking is a very natural activity for a baby. The following is a list of the main advantages for using pacifiers:

  • Soothing babies to settle them and send them to sleep
  • Relieving pain if a baby has colic
  • Recently, pacifiers have been linked with helping to prevent cot death. Studies have concluded that using pacifiers can reduce the risk of cot death. It is important to also remember the other preventative measures like putting babies on their backs to sleep and not smoking. There are suggestions as to why pacifiers might help to prevents SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) but it is not conclusive: the large handle of the pacifier may help keep the baby’s nose and mouth clear of covers, the sucking motion may help improve the baby’s control of his upper airway, the pacifier might affect the position in which the baby sleeps in a positive way which helps to prevent SIDS and also a pacifier may keep your baby in a state of greater arousal which in turn makes him less likely to suffer from breathing or heart problems whilst asleep. Studies and research do not show ’cause and effect’ and there are a number of questions remaining.
  • If premature babies are given a pacifier to suck before they are fed, they may transfer quicker from a tube to a bottle.

There are also disadvantages associated with using a pacifier:

  • Increased ear infections
  • There is a link to stomach infections amongst others. Pacifiers may cause a higher risk of symptoms such as vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, and colic.
  • Dental problems if used long term (similar to sucking their thumbs for too long).
  • Speech problems because pacifiers stop babies from babbling and hinders their speech development.
  • Pacifiers are linked to interfering with breastfeeding

Although many parents use pacifiers to soothe their babies, some parents absolutely hate the idea of using them. If you decide to use a dummy: use an orthodontic pacifier and make sure to keep it sterilised as you would a bottle teat. Also, renew the pacifier on a regular basis and check for cracks, splits and holes which can trap germs.

When it comes to encouraging your child to detach from the pacifier remember that these comforting items take on the same soothing powers as you have for your child. They can be as difficult to let go of as you. The following is a list of tips for when the time comes:

  • Slowly shorten the times when you let your child use their pacifier
  • Be firm and restrict the pacifier use to selective times like bedtime or when your child is ill
  • Reward your child with stickers, star charts or a fun activity but do not give them sweets as a substitute
  • Tell your child how grown up they are not using their pacifier, like the older boys and girls
  • Sometimes it is a good idea to suggest your child gives all their pacifiers to someone important to them like an aunt or grandparent

You have to expect that your child will be harder to sooth and settle for a little while and they will need lots of reassurance from you especially when you put them to bed. There could also be more tears and tantrums for a small amount of time. Your child will grow out of his comforter as all children do. Your calming voice and soothing cuddles will help to make your baby feel safe and comforted.

By Eirian Hallinan