Ditching the Dummy

31 December 2012

Ditching the Dummy

Let’s be honest, at some point we have vowed that we would never use a dummy and would have frowned on mothers in the street who dared to have one on display. 

In the early days a dummy can satisfy a baby’s seemingly constant desire to suck. It can also offer much- needed peace for parents of babies who are difficult to settle or are not happy unless they are sucking. Let’s be realistic if a dummy gives you and your baby much- needed peace and quiet in those first few months, who’s going to suggest otherwise.

The decision to use one should be your own personal choice. However, often well-meaning friends and family may wish to offer their own ideas on this matter thus making the decision more emotive.

Whatever you choose to do, here are a few important factors to bear in mind.

When should I stop using the dummy?

There is no specific age limit on when to get rid of a dummy and there are two trains of thoughts amongst health experts – ditch the dummy at 1 and ditch the dummy at 3; however, between 6 months to 1 year is preferable.  Children over one year can become very dependent on the dummy and, as with most habits, the longer you leave it the harder it is to resolve.

Will the dummy affect my child’s speech?

Prolonged use of a dummy even during the first year can impact on your baby’s early speech development. Between 6- 12 months your baby will become ‘orally fixated’ a normal developmental stage where your baby constantly explores objects via his mouth. This stage is important as it helps babies to use their tongue and lip muscles effectively, thus preparing them for babbling and early speech sounds. If a baby constantly has a dummy in his mouth, the desire to mouth toys, fingers and other objects is greatly reduced thus focussing all their attention on sucking. It can also affect their ability to control their saliva thus causing them to drool more which often results in soreness and chapping around the mouth.

In older children prolonged dummy usage can have an even bigger impact on their speech. In fact some Speech Therapists claim they can actually tell which children do or don’t use a dummy.

So how can this be….Basically through prolonged sucking the back muscles of the mouth become over stimulated and the lips, mouth and tongue muscles become restricted.  If a child constantly has a dummy in his mouth he  learn to talk round it by biting on the teat itself to keep it in. For example causing them to pronounce ‘Kiger’ instead of ‘Tiger’. Try it yourself, try talking with a spoon in your mouth and see what happens, you will realise how important the tongue and lips are in forming words correctly.

Dummy hygiene

Dummies can easily become germ ridden and harbour bacteria. Keep bugs at bay by being scrupulous about hygiene, sterilise dummies daily in a steam steriliser or sterilising solution and replace any that are cracked or broken as these trap germs.

Never dip your child’s dummy into anything sweet, as this can have severe consequences for tooth decay.

NEVER put a dummy in your mouth (despite common assumptions) to ‘clean it’ as mouths are full of bacteria and you will only make it worse.

How to let go?

It is important that when you make the decision to ditch the dummy it should be the right time in your child’s life not when a new sibling has just arrived or you are about to move house. Once you make the decision to do it you must stick to it, as consistency and perseverance will be your tools to your success.

For the younger child

Try weaning your baby off the dummy gradually over the course of a few weeks, that way it won’t be too traumatic. For all sleep times try to remove the dummy as soon as your baby is asleep so that they get to used to waking up without it, thus accepting it can’t always be there.  If your baby wakes in the night don’t rush in to put the dummy in straight away, try offering comfort and reassurance first. You may like to introduce a comfort toy for your baby to attach to instead. If your baby gets cranky during the day, don’t reach for the dummy straight away; try distracting him with a new toy or gentle music so that the dummy doesn’t become an expectation.

After a few weeks your baby will become less and less used to having it and therefore will be more likely to give it up for good.

The dummy fairy

Get your child to collect up ALL their dummies (make sure there are none stuck down the sofa, behind the TV or in the toy box!) .Place them all in a gift bag and hang them on the front door of your house. It is really important that you explain beforehand what you are going to do and that your child is actively involved in this event. Once your child is asleep remove the dummies and replace them with a new bedtime toy eg:  night light, teddy or new bedding; your child will quickly grasp that the new toy has replaced the old dummies.

The balloon trick

Buy a large helium balloon and attach your child’s dummy to it; explain to your child that now he is a big boy the ‘dummy fairy’ in the sky needs to have it. Take your child to an open space, park or beach so your child can watch it slowly disappear into the sky. It is really important that your child releases it himself so he knows it was his decision in the end. Make sure that when he gets home there is a special new bedtime toy waiting for him on the door step-simply magical!

In Copenhagen’s main city park in Denmark a large oak tree stands bearing hundreds of dummies dangling from its branches.  For decades parents have been taking their children to visit the ‘dummy tree’ where children can attach their dummies to a branch and leave a personal message of thanks and farewell. The sight itself for any young child is magical and inspiring, thus empowering them to let go.

Once you decide to ditch the dummy, it is vital that there is no going back. Your child might be a bit more clingy and tearful during the first few days as the dummy would have been his main source of comfort. Spend more time offering comfort and praise and let him know how proud you are for letting go.